Everytime an actor invites you to "Taste the Thunder" while endorsing a 300 ml bottle of cola, little do we realise that he is in fact advocating the consumption of ten tea spoons of sugar with every drink.
According to Sunita Narain, Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the culture of Bollywood and sports icons endorsing cola brands, creates "an addiction out of the product," without cautioning against its ill-effects.
"What they are selling you is nothing but sugar and water. To their benefit, they have been successful in creating an addiction out of it. But, Dhoni will never take such drinks himself, then why promote?" she said.
Arguing that celebrity endorsements of such products should be stopped across the world, she cited a study conducted by Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) investigating contamination in soft drinks and beverages to a cola advertisement replied by showcasing another actor "wearing a white coat."
"Now what does he (the actor) know about labs or about nutrition, or for that matter pesticides?" she questioned.
She admitted that the actor has now become "rather a good food proponent now."
The environmentalist was participating at one of the run-up sessions to the 6th ILF Samanvay, which is scheduled to be held from November 5 - 7 this year.
The discussion addressing the languages used by soda companies to make aerated drinks aspirational for consumers, also had veteran journalist Satya Sivaraman and food critic Sourish Bhattacharya on the panel.
"They have used the language making you believe that this is fashion, this is glamour and this is aspirational," Narain said.
She compared such advertisements with the "Marlboro Man phenomenon" that encouraged smoking, without noting that "the man died of lung cancer."
Bhattacharya, however, stopped short of banning the culture of celebrities promoting food products but rather suggested using their popularity to advocate healthier alternatives in this fight between "good and bad."
"Look at what (popular American chef) Alice Waters is doing. She has become the face of organic food movement all over the world. Same is the case with 'Slow food movement' founded by Carlos Petrini. We certainly can try the same here," said an optimistic Bhattacharya.
However, when questioned about the exorbitant prices of
the healthier alternatives, he said that one needs to begin somewhere and that such movements were only "baby steps" towards bringing about a bigger lifestyle change.
Referring to surrogate advertising, Sivaraman said that one of the most convenient methods adopted by FMCGs to promote their products was by doing so in disguise of other products or industries.
"There is a reason why Coke is a big player in music industry, entertainment, art, museum and others," he said.
Narain also went on to bust the myth of 'diet sodas' being healthier than their regular counterparts.
"You can gleam it, clean it or put a celebrity on the cover of it, but it is a bad product and it will remain so.
"Diet sodas, basically mean more caffeine, more aspartame and less sugar. That is the only configuration change that happens. The extra caffeine gives you kick, so you do not need the sugar here," said the activist.