Big Soda’s Deceptions Keep on Coming

by on October 7, 2014

Big Soda's Deceptions on Soda Tax

It’s been a rough few weeks for Big Soda spinmeisters, as their latest attempts at deception have all been busted by an increasingly skeptical media. From bogus claims about who exactly opposes a soda tax, to high profile promises to reduce beverage calories that turn out to be meaningless, the fizz has gone flat in Big Soda’s attempts to control the story around sugary drink consumption and the harm it does to public health.

Back in the early spring, the deceptively-named Coalition for an Affordable City (“with major funding by American Beverage Association California PAC”) released a list of over 700 small businesses it claimed opposed a proposed soda tax in San Francisco. Big Soda operatives clearly hoped that such opposition might discourage SF legislators from moving forward with a sugary beverage tax.

But when SF Bay Guardian reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez checked random names on the list, it was revealed that some owners of listed businesses never agreed to oppose the soda tax, and some of the listed businesses had in fact closed. Instead of boosting opposition to the soda tax, the list turned into a boondoggle, and became of a symbol of Big Soda’s deceptive claims.

The Coalition’s list was back in the news recently when SF Supervisor Scott Wiener, who co-authored the soda tax legislation now on the ballot as Proposition E, faced off against Roger Salazar, a paid consultant for the beverage industry, in a soda tax debate on KQED’s Forum radio program. Wiener mentioned that the tax opponents were now claiming to have 1000 names on their list, but that he had been unable to obtain a copy. When Wiener asked Salazar on air if he could see the list, Salazar refused, prompting Wiener to ask if it was “a secret list.”

SF Chronicle reporter Heather Knight was able to get a copy of the “secret list,” and checked some random names (the ones she called “the funniest”), only to discover that once again, there were some businesses on the list whose owners said they did not oppose the tax, and some who had no idea that they were even on a list.

Deception seems to be the name of the game with Big Soda. They recently made a splashy announcement promising to reduce calories consumed from their products by 20% over the next 10 years, when sales of high calorie drinks are already declining by a similar amount all on their own, as detailed by food policy expert Marion Nestle, who wrote:

“If the soda industry really wants to help prevent obesity, it needs to change its current practices. It should stop fighting tax and size initiatives, stop opposing warning labels on sugary drinks, stop lobbying against restrictions on sodas in schools, stop using sports and music celebrities to sell products to children, stop targeting marketing to African-American and Hispanic young people, and stop funding research studies designed to give sodas a clean bill of health.”

More deception: Big Soda pays for “scientific studies” that – surprise! – produce results favorable to the beverage industry 8 times more often than studies that are produced independent of industry funding.

Their anti-tax rallies in San Francisco are apparently attended by no one other than paid soda tax opponents.

They play the “regressive” card, claiming a soda tax will “hurt the poor,” when it is really their own barrage of targeted marketing that most harms the health of low income communities. As the SF Chronicle editorial board wrote in recommending a yes vote on the Proposition E soda tax:

“The beverage industry is fighting back hard, with a campaign suggesting that the tax is regressive because low-income people are more likely to drink the relatively cheap sodas.

“That argument triggered a sharp response from Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district covers some of San Francisco’s lowest-income neighborhoods in the southeast corner of the city.

“This (Type 2 diabetes) is a regressive disease,” she snapped.”

It’s gotten to the point where folks are even starting to question the sincerity of pro-beverage industry poster boy Taylor Peck. As the owner of 2 stores selling high-end and hard-to-find sodas, Peck has been ubiquitous in SF in recent weeks, appearing not just on billboards opposing Prop E, but also calling in as a speaker on KQED’s Forum debate, and penning a “no on E” opinion piece for the Chronicle.

Peck, who was described by Imbibe magazine in 2010 as both “a flamboyant performance artist” and also “a huckster,” was called out by the Chronicle’s Heather Knight for changing his tune on soda taxes depending on where they were being proposed.

The “reject the soda tax” opinion piece he wrote for the Chronicle garnered some negative comments online, with some wondering why Peck thought a tax was okay for nearby Richmond but not for SF. Another commenter suggested that Peck’s ownership of a soda store made him a less reliable authority on diabetes than the UCSF medical community, whose research suggests a soda tax would save both lives and public funds.

My own favorite Peckism comes from his response to a commenter called “cag66”. Peck wrote, “People of all ages and all activity and cardiovascular levels will pay and pay (forever) to hopefully educate about a condition that affects a relatively small percentage of our population.”

I wonder what “condition” Peck is referring to, that he thinks affects such a small number of people? Probably not overweight or obesity, as 2 in 3 adult Americans, and 1 in 3 kids, are already affected by that “condition.”

More likely he means diabetes, not excess weight; that’s the real problem caused by sugary drink consumption. But then one is left to wonder, is Peck unaware that 1 in 8 Americans have already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and that African American and Latino kids born today have a 50% chance of developing the disease?

Or is he just pretending to believe that few people are affected by diabetes, so it’s okay to do nothing while our citizens, and especially our communities of color, grow sicker year by year? Pretending that diabetes is not a public health crisis – and an expensive one costing $245 billion in 2012 – is another deception Big Soda’s is selling, but increasingly it is one the public is not willing to buy.


Dana Woldow has been a school food advocate since 2002 and shares what she has learned at Follow her on Twitter @nestwife, or read more than 140 characters of her writing in her complete archive.






Dana Woldow

Dana Woldow advocates for policies, including soda taxes and better school meals, to improve the health of all children through better nutrition and education. She has been a leader in improving school food in San Francisco since 2002, when she formed a school nutrition group to run a pilot removing junk food from SFUSD's Aptos Middle School, where her children were students; the pilot was expanded to all of the city's public middle and high schools in 2003. She served as co-chair of the SFUSD Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee from October 2003 to June 2011.

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