No Longer A Nation of Miniature Coke Addicts?

The nation’s biggest soft drink manufacturers agreed today that they will no longer sell soda (or “Coke”, for those of us lucky enough to be born Southerners) in the nation’s schools. (Read the New York Times’ account here.) (Somewhat inexplicably, it’s still okay to sell diet soda and “fitness drinks” to high school students.) The deal was brokered by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association. President Clinton, in announcing the agreement, declared his firm conviction that the soda companies have nothing but benevolent intentions:

“This is a truly significant thing for an industry to do, not entirely free of risks on their part, not only economic risks but backlash from the consumer. … And they did it, I believe, because … they care about the future of our young people.”

Call me a cynic, but couldn’t the threat of massive class action litigation have had a little something to do with it, as well? As reported by several media outlets back in December, the Center for Science in the Public Interest had teamed up with the anti-tobacco plaintiffs’ bar to bring a series of lawsuits in state courts to force the soda companies to give up their lucrative sales contracts with the nation’s schools. Back then, the industry was reportedly “gearing up for a counterattack” – for example, publishing their own studies that purported to show that the average high school student only drinks one can of Coke per week from a school vending machine (a claim that I personally find very difficult to, um, swallow). Apparently the industry decided that a quick surrender was a better way to go.

And in related news on the Arkansawyers-who-would-be-President front (see my previous post on the subject here), Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is getting some of the credit for brokering the agreement – and thus some much-needed publicity in his as yet-undeclared dark-horse candidacy for the 2008 presidential election. Huckabee – now being described by the New York Times as a “leader in the movement to help stamp out childhood obesity” – has clearly found an issue to call his own, and one that fits him to a tee. (For an insightful — and amusing — look at Huckabee’s chances, check out the incomparable John Brummett’s editorial on the subject here.)

All of which has me pondering the following:

1) How much influence did the threat of lawsuits exert over the soda industry? How do we go about assessing the impact of threatened litigation on the soda companies’ decisionmaking? (Does anyone know of research attempting to address this sort of issue?)

2) Assuming that the threat of litigation did play a significant role, is that a plus or a minus? Is industry self-regulation under threat of litigation superior to regulation by the FDA or by state or local governments, and if so, why?

3) And for you political junkies out there: Is this a winning issue for a Presidential wannabe like Huckabee?

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2 Responses

  1. Bruce says:

    That’s too bad. I kind of like those miniature Cokes.

  2. David Zaring says:

    Huckabee was funny on Colbert this week. And I love the lawsuit spectre point. Note that since Diet Coke is still totally legal, I’m not sure this is exactly gonna take the commerce out of schools – though I guess it will reduce the calories.