Two pastors filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, claiming the soda manufacturers knowingly deceived customers about health risks through its advertisements.
William Lamar and Delman Coates claimed Coca-Cola executives ran campaigns that intentionally confused consumers on the link between the soft drinks and obesity, The Washington Post reported. D.C. Superior Court filed the complaint on behalf of the pastors and the Praxis Project, a public health group.
“It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” Coates, the pastor at Maryland’s Mount Ennon Baptist Church, told the newspaper.
Lamar, the senior pastor at D.C.’s historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, also echoed the same sentiment.
Coates added that he previously saw members of his congregation feeding infants Coca-Cola in baby bottles.
“There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns,” Coates said.
The lawsuit alleges that millions of dollars were spent on research, blog posts and advertising campaigns to disprove or confuse the link between consuming sugary soda drinks and obesity.
Coca-Cola, however, said in a statement to the Washington Post the allegations were “factually meritless,” adding that it will “vigorously defend against them.”
“The Coca-Cola Company understands that we have a role to play in helping people reduce their sugar consumption,” the statement read.
The American Beverage Association also disputed the claim that there is a link between soda consumption and obesity.
“Beverages are not driving obesity rates,” the organization said. “Obesity has been going up steadily for years while soda consumption has been going down steadily. Shouldn’t obesity rates have gone down with the reduction in soda consumption if the two are connected?”
The lawsuit comes after a similar suit was filed in California last January, but later withdrawn. That claim also said Coca-Cola and ABA were downplaying sugar’s role in the increase in obesity cases.