www.whyville.net Aug 8, 2010 Weekly Issue

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It's not quite juice and it's not quite water, but it comes in eye-catching colors and to be fair, it tastes pretty good. You've probably heard about the latest way to hydrate your body: vitaminwater. Owned by Coca-Cola, it once appeared that everyone from 50 Cent to Lebron James loved this so-called healthy alternative to juice and pop but now a public interest group is suing Coke, claiming that the product's health claims are intentionally exaggerated and misleading.

This lawsuit probably isn't a huge surprise for you or for Coca-Cola. After all, while the name "vitamin water" implies some sort of super beverage that is essential for well being, the drink is nowhere close to the substance that comes out of your faucet. True, the first ingredient in vitaminwater is water, but the second ingredient is crystalline fructose, an artificial sweetener which offers no nutritional benefit. As for the vitamin enhancements, well, they're all synthetic and most Americans aren't vitamin deficient, anyways.

You're much better off eating a balanced diet or taking a multivitamin, and Coca-cola seems to agree. Don't believe me? Their legal defense claims that "no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage." Basically, they're saying that it's so obvious that the product is unhealthy that you'd have to be a fool to think vitaminwater is a credible health supplement. So . . . why would anyone believe otherwise?

Vitaminwater's website claims that "vitaminwater is a great-tasting, healthy enhanced water that is packed with nutrients". It says explicitly that their product is healthy, so it seems clear to me why someone would believe that it's a healthy option. So is Coca-Cola admitting that it lied? It seems to me that they are, and a US Federal judge agrees with me, saying that Coca-Cola has failed disprove the factual basis of the lawsuit.

On the surface, Coca-Cola's logic seems completely twisted, right? Admitting that you lied and that you didn't expect anyone to believe you is hardly a defense; but the sad reality is much more complicated. If you've ever so much as looked as a bottle of vitaminwater, I hope its psychedelic color would lead to suspect that it's more than a bottle of water with a bit of folic acid and vitamin C stirred in. But let's dig a little deeper and take a look at one of the labels. Here's what the dragonfruit flavor, power-c, proclaims:

legally, we are prohibited from making exaggerated claims about the potency of the nutrients in this bottle, therefore, legally we wouldn't tell you that after drink this, gary from ballarat started using horseshoes as a thighmaster or that this drink gave sue from wagga enough strength to bench press llamas. heck, we can't even tell you this drink gives you the power to do a thousand pinkie push-ups . . . just ask tom in freemantle.

legally, we can't say stuff like that - cause that would be wrong, you know?

All of the vitaminwater labels are written in a similar tone and with the punctuation of a text message, and with names like "xxx" and "multi-v", it's fairly obvious that these products are being marketed to teens, a fact which is particularly worrisome. But even teens should be able to figure out that no beverage will give you the ability to do a bazillion push-ups, let alone with your pinkies. So it's not what's explicitly stated that seems to be the problem, but rather what's implied that is misleading. Sure, it's exaggerated, but taking vitamins can never actually be bad for you, so even if you don't sprout superpowers overnight, it might help you make it through a set of 50 sit-ups without feeling completely gassed, right? And besides, they said in all seriousness on their website that it was a healthy enhanced water. (They were being serious, right?)

Furthermore, since many of the health claims here are implicit, they are also ambiguous, meaning that Coca-Cola might have a case. Depending on how you slice it, vitaminwater might be considered healthier than its competition. You see, it has less calories and less sweetener than soda pop, and the occasional vitamin water on a hot day, probably isn't going to give you cancer or a heart attack. While that doesn?t necessarily make it good for you, it does at least give Coca-Cola a position to argue.

But back to that label for a moment, because I chose it for a reason. The product blatantly states that they can't make exaggerated claims because it's illegal and just plain wrong; but their rhetoric proceeds to do so anyways and now Coca-Cola is outright saying they lied as a legal defense? I don't know about you, but it seems rather arrogant, not to mention all of the ethical questions it raises. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to drink vitaminwater again - even if I wasn't drinking it for the health benefits to begin with. For now at least, I'm just sticking to tap water.


Author's Note: Sources:


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