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Move Over Joe Camel?
February 3, 2004
By John F. Borowski

Coca-Cola doesn't have Joe Camel. Instead they have a cool cow figure with shades adorning their new "Swerve" drink and it will only be sold in schools. It seems purveyors of liquid candy will use any gimmick to invade our public schools. "Swerve," in its 11-ounce can, contains 52% milk and is artificially flavored with sucralose, a man-made chlorinated compound. 600 times sweeter than table sugar this compound only had 19 studies on it by the year 2000 - worrying health advocates, considering compounds like pesticides were often made with chlorinated compounds. Big tobacco used a camel figure to con kids; Coca-Cola will now use a cow to do the same.

Coca-Cola has now become an official sponsor of the national PTA and Coke's vice president John Downs has a seat on the PTA's board, giving Coca-Cola interests full voting rights. The PTA, a well-regarded children's health advocate, has enlisted itself as a lobbying springboard for a corporation with dreams of flooding schools with their products, health concerns be damned.

This is the same Coca-Cola Corporation that is looking to display its logo on baby bottles. The same Coca-Cola culprits have contracts with at least 6,000 of the nation's 14,000 public school districts and pays the Boy & Girls Clubs of America $60 million a year to ensure that only coke is sold in their 2,000 facilities nationwide. Coca-Cola has been instrumental in lobbying against the World Health Organization's guidelines stating that it is not healthy for humans to ingest sugar as 10% of their diets.

Parents must be overjoyed. Their kids get a cool "milk dude" with chlorinated sweeteners and twice the sodium of Coca-Cola classic. Kids can alternate between "Swerve" and regular Coca-Cola and corporate charlatans can laugh all the way to the bank. What is not humorous is that we are inundating children with caffeine, phosphoric acid and massive amounts of sugar - the legacy will be the sickest generation of children in modern United States history. Little is known about the health effects of chlorinated sucralose, and it will only be marketed in schools.

Some educational purists and visionaries will echo Tracey Cooper, a Colorado Springs school district advertising manager. When asked about having "Burger King buses" in their school district (adorned with Burger King's logo), Ms. Cooper replied, "In a perfect world we wouldn't have to do this." Considering how important school is in our children's lives, we really should not be forced to beg for crumbs off corporate board office tables.

Coca-Cola's "Swerve" cow is now trying to overtake the infamous"Joe Camel" cartoon character with all the same deceit and malfeasance that the tobacco industry produced for 50 years. Coke knows that the ticket to reaching kids is repetition of message. Should that trusted teacher-figure stay mute as kids drink sugary caffeine water and artificially chlorinated pseudo milk drinks? In a just world, adults safeguard children, and now is time to act.

Call the National PTA on their toll-free line at 800-307-4782, ask them to advocate for kids, not soda pop corporations. Ask them to drop Coca-Cola bigwig John Downs off their board. Write Coca-Cola at their corporate office in Atlanta, Georgia (PO Box 1734), 30301. Tell them to get out of our schools. Ask them why they would provide a "milk drink" sweetened with a chlorine product. Ask your local pediatrician to submit a letter to your school district advising against the sale of pop and sweetened milk substitutes. Ask that doctor to join ranks with the American Academy of Pediatrics that recently issued a statement in favor of a ban on selling soda pop to school children.

Give your kids real milk. Give them water and try soy-milk products. Make sweets a rare treat. Give Coca-cola and Swerve the boot from our schools.

John F. Borowski is a marine and environmental science teacher in Salem, Oregon. His pieces have appeared in the Utne Reader, NY Times, Counterpunch and on many other sites. He can be reached at

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