Coca-Cola Hit With "Tobacco-Style" Lawsuit. Who Else Is at Risk?

Put down that soda! According to a lawsuit filed against Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) , the carbonated drink is just as dangerous to your health as a cigarette. Well, maybe not quite, but the soda giant and the American Beverage Association (ABA) are being sued by consumer activists who say their actions are just as bad as what the tobacco giants did, and they should be similarly punished.

Coca Cola Coke Ko Soda Beverage Drink Carbonated Polar Bear Ad Source Coca Cola

Image source: Coca-Cola.

Whatever the specifics, one has to worry about how this will play out in other industries. For example, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has advocated on behalf of balancing the desire to lower the public's consumption of sodium intake in proposed U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules against a need for "providing products that have the safety, functionality, and taste that consumers expect." It's also argued that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe, but has been against labeling products indicating there are GMO ingredients, though it does support national labeling laws.

The Snack Foods Association also supports national GMO labeling laws, but the better than $374 billion snack-foods industry is often pointed to as a big contributor to an unhealthy diet. According to 2014 Nielsen research, snacks are used as meal replacements around half the time, and that can't be healthy.

Nielsen also found that, when it comes to candy consumption, families with young kids are what's driving sales. Around two-thirds of families with children 12 and younger are the ones buying sweets, and propping up the $21 billion candy industry.

Big targets, deeper pockets await

There are endless numbers of avenues of attack against Big Food. What did the industry know about trans fats (or sodium, partially hydrogenated fats, added sugar), and when did they know it?

Image source: Flickr via Mike Mozart.

We've seen companies sued over the use of the words "natural," "organic," and "evaporated cane juice," and Whole Foods Market was sued because it sold almond milk that was mislabeled as being non-GMO certified. When CVS Health removed cigarettes from its stores a few years ago, it was criticized for not taking off the shelves the candy, snacks, and ice cream it also sells -- which are also considered health hazards.

Will individual retailers find themselves on the receiving end of endless lawsuits for not doing all they could to protect consumers from themselves? This may depend upon the success of the complaint filed against Coke. But like the tobacco industry before it, the start of a legal assault against Coca-Cola is merely an expedition to go after more and bigger fish in the food and beverage industry.

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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola and CVS Health. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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