Dispelling myths about sugars and health by the sweet food industries
1st November, 2003
Action and Information on Sugars (AIS) was created by public health dentists and dietitians in the mid-1980s to dispel the myths about sugars and health propagated by the sweet foods industries. One of our greatest successes was a campaign to stop GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) claiming that its Ribena ToothKind drink ‘did not encourage tooth decay’. The claim was endorsed by the British Dental Association (BDA).
To counter this claim with scientific evidence, AIS commissioned a laboratory in Zurich to test whether this allegedly safe soft drink could in fact cause tooth decay. Ribena ToothKind failed the test. We used this evidence to formally complain to the Advertising Standards Authority about the misleading claim.
GSK spun out the process for two and a half years by insisting on four rounds of evidence, two outside expert assessments and two appeals. Six times during this period GSK and the BDA threatened me and one of my colleagues with legal action if we did not immediately stop our campaign and sign apologies they had kindly drafted for us.
But we were confident of our evidence, because the Zurich lab is the leader in its field. It is also the laboratory that GSK itself used in the initial testing of its product.
GSK appealed right up to the High Court, which found the claim misleading and therefore illegal. Despite this, the BDA refused to withdraw its accreditation. But the tooth-decay claim has now been removed from the product's labels and advertising.
There was no court fine for GSK, but the controversy has cost the company. Sales of Ribena ToothKind fell by 15 per cent in the year...
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