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Opens Talks Instead of Filing School Soft-Drink Sales Legal Action

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A consumer group that has been weighing a lawsuit that charges the soft-drink industry with unfairly or deceptively marketing harmful products to children today said it is in negotiations with marketers and will hold off on the suit.
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Pepsi comes to table
Officials of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said word of the planned lawsuit led Pepsi-Cola Co. executives to come to the table. They also said there are discussions with Coca-Cola Co., although CSPI declined to discuss details of those talks.

Coca-Cola did not return a call for comment; Pepsi referred calls to the American Beverage Association.

Kevin Keene, senior VP-communications for the ABA, confirmed the group has talked with CSPI, but said the discussion had been between it and the CSPI, rather than with individual companies. “We are talking with them and listening to them, but it is a bit strong to characterize it as negotiations,” he said.

Massachusetts law
The lawsuit, expected late last year or early this year, was to target soft-drink marketers’ in-school sales and was expected to be filed in Massachusetts, where state law allows citizens to sue on behalf of the state attorney general.

CSPI officials, in announcing a separate Massachusetts suit against Viacom and Kellogg Co. today, gave few details about the planned soft-drink lawsuit other than to say it would allege unfair and deceptive actions toward middle- and high-school children.

Richard Daynard, a professor of law at Northeastern University and a veteran of tobacco lawsuits, had been working on the soda suit.

ABA's new policy
Soft-drink makers have been stepping up their review of marketing and sales activities in schools, and last August the ABA announced a new policy for vending machines that limits elementary-school sales to water and 100% juices, and bans sales of full-calorie soft drinks and full-calorie juice drinks with less than 5% juice in middle schools.

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