The hook for their argument is the soda industry's 'corporate social responsibility' programmes, ie. various anti-obesity campaigns, multi-million dollar philanthropy and community involvement. The authors note that the tobacco industry has also given money to the community in this way and therefore, by this tenuous association, the soda industry is EVIL.
Many other businesses also have corporate social responsibility programmes, of course, but they don't get mentioned because it would spoil their already paper-thin argument. Instead, they focus on Pepsi's Refresh project and Coca-Cola's Live Positively campaign.
As exposés go, I've seen better.
They use educational campaigns such as “Balanced Living” or “Exercise is Medicine” to urge individual consumers to achieve healthy lifestyles;
... [they] support charitable projects, such as the $2 million Spark Your Park (also called Sprite Spark Parks) initiative to refurbish basketball courts and school athletic fields in underserved communities;
The swine! Their businesses should be closed down, their factories razed to the ground and salt poured on the land so nothing can ever grow there again.
...and develop initiatives to improve the company's own business practices, e.g. reducing its water consumption.
Disgraceful stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. Just like Big Tobacco, only worse...
Soda CSR differs from tobacco in its explicit appeals to youth and in the aggressive launch of comprehensive campaigns soon after soda was linked to obesity.
It seems to be an iron rule that when governments spend large sums of money on public health campaigns, the advertisements are "innovative" and "hard-hitting", whereas even the most modest industry advertising campaign is "aggressive". Elsewhere in this article you can read about how the soda industry "has aggressively lobbied against taxes" and is "explicitly and aggressively profit-seeking". I wonder who the real aggressors are—the businesses trying to defend themselves or the fanatics who would impose their beliefs on others using state force?
Even from these brief descriptions it appears that the soda CSR campaigns reinforce the idea that obesity is caused by customers' “bad” behavior
If by 'bad behaviour' you mean choosing to consume more calories than you burn off, then yes, obesity is caused by bad behaviour.
Such tactics redirect the responsibility for health outcomes from corporations onto its consumers...
Beyond having to comply with basic safety requirements, corporations are in no way responsible for your health. You are. Never in history have we had more choice about what we eat and drink. Even within the soda industry, there exists a huge range of low- and zero-calorie products for you to choose from. What you decide to eat and drink is entirely a matter for you. Few choices are more personal and less public.
...and externalize the negative effects of increased obesity to the public
That sentence makes no sense. The soda industry is in no way responsible for someone becoming obese, but even if it were, the effect could only ever be internal to that person.
The overall goal for the tobacco industry's CSR strategy has been to normalize its products and its corporate image, but it has struggled as public health advocates have denormalized tobacco use and challenged tobacco companies trying to rehabilitate their images. Historically, advocates countered such campaigns by stigmatizing smoking. Now, denormalization characterizes the corporation's activities as a disease vector, and highlights the disingenuous use of CSR.
...The soda industry appears to be improving upon Big Tobacco's CSR strategy by acting sooner.
Sooner before what? Before "advocates" denormalise soda drinking, stigmatise soda drinkers and portray the soda industry as a disease vector, presumably. Well, yes. And who can blame them? They have the advantage of having seen the anti-tobacco blueprint. They know what's coming. They know that "advocates" will not stop with warning labels and sin taxes. They know that "advocates" will never be satisfied until the targeted product is illegal. Damn right they need to act. It's a shame that this action is limited to setting up charitable trusts.
While soda companies may not face the level of social stigmatization or regulatory pressure that now confronts Big Tobacco, concern over soda and the obesity epidemic is growing.
You don't need to read too far between the lines to see that social stigmatisation is on the horizon.
Unlike tobacco, at the first signs of soda denormalization soda companies quickly launched comprehensive, well-funded, international CSR campaigns that take advantage of social media.
Soda denormalisation, eh? How quickly things progress. For the "advocates", of course, this denormalisation is both essential and urgent.
Without sustained denormalization of soda, it will be harder for public health advocates to see why partnering with industry may further the companies' goals more than their own.
So what next? Having set our sights on the soda industry, all we need is a bit of junk science to decorate the crusade.
Research on the health harms of sugary beverages can help advocates name these products as one of the “biggest culprits” behind the obesity crisis. Emerging science on the addictiveness and toxicity of sugar, especially when combined with the known addictive properties of caffeine found in many sugary beverages, should further heighten awareness of the product's public health threat similar to the understanding about the addictiveness of tobacco products.
And there you have it. Addiction, toxicity, 'public health' and an evil industry that is copying Big Tobacco. I think we can say that Phase Two has officially begun.