Cigarette sales have dropped by more than half in the U.S. over the past 50 years. Labeling practices for tobacco products and statewide smoking bans in indoor public places are now commonplace. Big tobacco companies, seeing no end in the ever decreasing consumption of tobacco, started moving their businesses elsewhere.
Where to, exactly? Wherever they didn’t have to put up with such stringent restrictions about where they could sell their products or how they could be consumed, namely developing countries.
Now the major soft drink companies, Coca Cola and PepsiCo, are following their footsteps.
“The interest of corporations in investing in emerging markets is based on a simple premise: potential huge profits in countries whose economies are growing fast,” a report released Tuesday by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said.
The reasons that lowered the amount of smokers are the same that are now pushing people in the U.S. away from soda. Bad science has been dispelled, and prevention has focused on young people, with many states banning soda in schools.
Though most initiatives to control or tax sweet drinks have failed, public awareness of their negative impact on health is higher than ever. Bottled water is set to overcome soda as the most consumed beverage over the next few years.
“More and more places are going to limit soda consumption” Jim O’Hara from the CSPI said Wednesday. He drew parallels with how tobacco restrictions were first met with strong opposition.
Since 1998, soda consumption in the U.S. has dropped 25 percent.
Despite the downward trend in the U.S., the same does not apply elsewhere, the report says. Mexico, India, Brazil and Argentina are some of biggest markets for beverages, and consumption there is rising.
Mexico is the largest market for soft drinks and one of the countries with the highest rates of childhood obesity. Coca Cola is set to invest $20 billion in Mexico and Brazil alone over the next five years. That’s roughly two-thirds of its worldwide investments. Every Mexican consumes an average of 728 8-ounce cans of soda from Coca Cola brands per year, or about 45.5 gallons per person. The world average is just under 6 gallons.
However, as with tobacco, the center hopes soda consumption will soon start to slow down abroad as well. In the U.S. about diet sodas make up about 30 percent of sales. Diet sodas are not popular in other countries.
In many places, it’s already happening. Mexico imposed an 8 percent tax on soft drinks in 2014 as part of efforts to curb obesity and diabetes. In Colombia and Argentina, healthier substitutes such as tea or coffee are replacing soda, as worries about the health impact of soda become more widespread. India and Peru are requiring warning labels on high calorie, high sodium or high sugar drinks and snacks.
However, setting up public policies that aim to reduce the consumption of sugar-rich beverages has always been hard, and that is unlikely to change. Taxing soft drinks and adding warning labels to packaging are always heavily opposed by soft drinks manufacturers. To illustrate this point, the report show pictures of schools and small shops in very remote areas of the world covered in Coca Cola advertising.
“In countries from Ghana to South Africa, advertisements for soda are even found on school entrance signs. Thus, children are repeatedly exposed to soda advertising each and every school day,” the report said.
In November 2013, Ecuador tried a traffic light style warning on soft drinks, meaning products would get green, yellow or red labels according to their nutritional values. However, the World Trade Organization, intervened and the warning was moved from the front of the label to the back. Chile’s warning label has faced the same backlash, but the government is moving forward with the initiative.
Even the U.S, the only place with a successful soda tax is Berkeley, Calif. However, this might change in the near future.
O’Hara said he hopes these kinds of policies, coupled with more preventive measures, particularly those focused on children, will gain traction eventually, and that drinking less soda will become more of a global trend.
In response to the CSPI report, the International Council of Beverages Associations said in a statement that its marketing practices are responsible, and that “CSPI ignores the economic importance of the jobs and the investments beverage companies bring to hundreds of thousands of employees and their families worldwide.” Coca Cola and PepsiCo are both members of the ICBA.
Reach reporter Karina Meier at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.