The Salvation Army is defending its decision to back a Coca-Cola marketing campaign slammed by health groups as "cynical".
Last month a Coca-Cola truck embarked on a tour of regional Queensland and New South Wales, handing out gifts along the way as part of a Christmas-themed promotion.
Health groups have criticised the campaign as nothing more than a marketing exercise targeting communities with already-high obesity rates.
"It's actually using people who are on hard times, communities who are on hard times to sell their product, and I actually think it stinks," Michael Moore, the chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, said.
"The notion you would have sugary soft drinks supporting Christmas greetings and targeting children really is pushing the barrel too far."
But Salvation Army communications and fundraising director Leigh Cleave said the organisation was satisfied with the benefits of its relationship.
"The connections and the legacies that [Coca-Cola] left in each community, be they sporting equipment, community halls being done up, was really quite significant," Mr Cleave said.
"At one of the events that I was at, they had a feast on the beach with families and beautiful, wonderful healthy food and salads, and some people that we work with who struggle during the year were at this feast.
"We know that things like this don't solve people's problems, but at times like this at Christmas, when they can feel that someone's done something quite magical and special for them, that's something that is important to us."
Concerns over 'targeting of children'
Mount Isa Mayor Joyce McCulloch, said she did not have a problem when it visited her community.
"I think it's a wonderful initiative, considering that it's actually a European initiative and Coca-Cola have opted to bring their truck to Australia," Councillor McCulloch said.
Responding to health and parents' group's concerns, she said she had only had positive feedback about the tour.
"It's up to parents to control the negative side of what Coca-Cola actually does do, but it's not for me as a parent to tell other parents how to raise their children," she said.
In a statement, a Coca-Cola spokesperson said the locations the truck visited, which included Tamworth and Townsville, were independently identified as deserving communities.
They also said Coke had strict protocols about not marketing its products to children and served low-sugar drinks at Christmas truck events.
But the Public Health Association's Mr Moore said that did not allay his overall concerns.
"The reality is when we see Coke, people think of the normal Coke — the one they've been selling for a century — which has such a high content of sugar," he said.
"So I think that's the real concern. It's not as much what [Coca-Cola] are doing on the spot as their constant marketing and targeting of children."
So far, 14 health promotion organisations, including the Australian Dental Association, have signed a petition to stop the truck's tour.
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