Big Soda's Publicity Stunt

Move over Big Tobacco, you've got competition in the Shameless PR award category: With much fanfare, the American Beverage Association (the trade group formerly known as the National Soft Drink Association) has announced a new school-based policy "aimed at providing lower calorie and/or nutritious beverages to schools and limiting the availability of soft drinks." The specifics of the policy matter less than the enormous amount of positive press that resulted. Newspaper accounts included such headlines as "Soft drink industry takes high road" and "Schools get ally in soda issue: Drink makers." Unfortunately, the real impact of this move is far different. To begin with, the ABA is the soda makers' lobbying arm and doesn't directly contract with schools. Soda is sold through local distributors controlled by the parent companies. Next, there is no enforcement or oversight mechanism for the voluntary rules. Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola boasted that the new policy mirrored their own, and that should raise plenty of red flags. Coca-Cola's 2003 voluntary "model guidelines" to not sell sodas in elementary schools are already routinely violated. Documented examples include schools in Kentucky and Texas.