Ho, ho, ho, it’s Christmas, have some cheer! The Coke Truck arrives, cavities are here!”

In 1995, the ad agency W.B. Doner came up with what would soon be a tradition in the years to come, the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck. In the maiden commercial, the three 18-wheelers passed through hillsides, valleys and towns. Each truck featured more than 30,000 bulbs with images of the Coca-Cola Santa colourfully illustrated on the side. At the end of the spot, the Santa on the back of the final truck raises his bottle of Coca-Cola in a holiday toast.

Since then, Coca-Cola materialised the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck, sending two Lorries to over 40 locations in England and Scotland in December 2017. The firm’s promotional material stated that the trucks would be “delivering Christmas cheer up and down the country. At every stop, you’ll have the chance to project your festive selfies across the side of the truck as it lights up. You’ll also be able to experience a snowy winter wonderland setting while enjoying a choice of Coca-Cola Classic, Diet Coke or Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.” Staff would offer customers free 150ml samples of the three drinks. The trucks are lit by 372 bulbs and 8,772 fairy lights which would appeal to the typical child.

Cheng, Yang, Shao, Hu and Zhou (2009) conducted a research on the relationship between soft drinks consumption and dental erosion as well as severe tooth decay. The subject of their research was a 25-year-old man with a history of drinking cola for more than 7 years and had poor oral hygiene. In the first 3 years, he consumed 0.5 – 0.7 litres of cola a day and brushed his teeth once a day. In the fourth and fifth month of the fourth year, the man consumed 1.5 litres of cola a day and brushed his teeth once a day. During the last 3 years, he continued drinking 1.5 litres a day and brushed once or twice daily. The man was a banker and had no exposure to acidic substances nor anything unusual in his diet, medical history or any family history of dental problems.

The man’s front teeth which were severely worn out. Furthermore, there were severe cavities present as well as the presence of gingivitis. The study concluded that the inherent acids and sugars in cola result in dental carries and enamel (the top white hard part of one’s teeth) erosion.

In light of this, the National Health Service (NHS), a publicly funded national healthcare system for England, presented some statistics that may be worrying. Generally, 61% of the planned stops in England and Scotland had 5 and 12-year-olds who had higher rates of rotten teeth than the English average. Further, one of the planned stops, Bolton, had 40.5% of 5-year-olds with tooth decay.

Coca-Cola has defended their use of the promotional Coke Christmas Trucks, which they say have made 397 stops and covered over 700,000 miles in the United Kingdom (UK). A spokesperson for the company stated that the tour is a one-off, annual event where they offered samples of the three main variants of Coca-Cola, noting that 2 out of the 3 are low-sugar-content drinks. The spokesperson further stated that, on average, over 70% of the samples were the zero-sugar option. Furthermore, they also had a policy of not providing drinks to children under the age of 12 unless their guardian is present and gives consent. The truck route also changes every year as they try to cover a fair geographical spread of the UK.

However, with the increasing awareness of the health effects of excessive soft drink consumption, Coca-Cola has come under fire with multiple health officials protesting the Coke Christmas Truck marketing stunt with some even calling for an outright ban on the trucks

So it’s no surprise that with the arrival of the Coke Christmas Truck in Australia in December 2017, a coalition of health bodies (including the Australian Dental Association) led by Parents’ Voice, has raised serious concerns about the impact of Coke’s festive marketing push. The Parents’ Voice termed the truck as “a giant mobile billboard marketing unhealthy products to vulnerable communities.” Further, 1 in every 4 children aged between 5-10 years in Australia has tooth decay that is not being treated. This, combined with the fact that some of the areas that were to be visited had obesity rates of as much as 73% have locals feeling that the campaign may have adverse effects on the community.