Bob Franken

King Features Column

(Here’s the disclaimer: The deal with the syndicator delays the appearance of this column here until a week after its newspaper release)

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       All hell is breaking loose, particularly on the right, about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s order to impose a ban on the sale of large sizes of sugary soft drinks. But count me among the many who wonder why the very same people who want the authorities deeply involved in prohibiting gay marriage or abortion also condemn any government efforts to combat obesity.
       Never mind the overwhelming evidence of the threats to public health from what The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls “liquid candy,” Hizzoner is constantly vilified for his aggressive efforts to regulate the egregiously dangerous products we eat and drink. He’s condemned for infringing on our “personal choice.”
       Actually, one could argue that his beverage limits are kinda namby-pamby. First of all, by aiming at soda pop, he’s overlooking the massive number of other products that contain the same toxin: sugar.
       And yes, it is a toxin. Whether corn or cane or beet, refined sugar kills and maims as it bloats the guts of fat Americans everywhere. In Bloomberg’s New York, for instance, an estimated 50 percent of the population is overweight or outright obese. Half. No wonder the city can be so harsh.
       Portion control is really a wimpy way to deal with such a dangerous poison, particularly one that is so shamelessly marketed to a flabby nation hobbled by this substance abuse. The “personal choice” protestations against any public-health programs sound eerily like the ones we used to hear about cigarettes.
       That helps explain the full-page ad showing a huge picture of Mayor Bloomberg headlined in large bold type: “The Nanny.” Who paid for it? The group calls itself The Center for Consumer Freedom; it’s a nice-sounding name until we find out it was originally set up with money from a tobacco company, and that one of its funders these days is Coca-Cola. It’s comparable to one of those shell entities that are fronts to launder the money of bad guys.

Thanks to the Center for Responsive Politics, we learn that the American Beverage Association spent almost $19 million for lobbying the federal government in 2009. That was at the height of efforts to slap a heavy tax on sugar drinks.
       They were able to thwart that effort, even though they are selling an addictive substance. Shouldn’t we reconsider a heavy tax on these products, just like the one on cigarettes? Let’s call it as “Sweet Tooth Tax.”
       And before anyone starts hollering about equating sucrose or fructose to nicotine, contemplate the words of Robert Lustig, a pediatric hormone specialist, considered THE science expert on sugar. He cites the skyrocketing jump in heart disease, hypertension and various cancers that he attributes to this “most demonized additive known to man.”
       Industry ads paradoxically show the scope of the problem, citing the statistic that sugar soft drinks make up only 7 percent of the “calories in the average American diet.” That’s 7 percent in calories that are empty of everything but danger.
       The major food cartels are plainly and simply pushers, be they the soft-drink peddlers or the giant food conglomerates advertising their sweetened wares to children. “Personal choice” is programmed at a very young age.
       Then there’s the predictable contention that sugar is a huge employer, providing jobs to those who grow the raw ingredients, refine them and send them up the food chain and down into our bellies. The tobacco industry still uses that same jobs argument. And if you go to Afghanistan, you’ll hear it from the poppy farmers.
       This will take political creativity. Perhaps something can be worked out. Maybe they can agree to limit soft-drink portions at eating establishments, but also at same-sex weddings. Who said compromise wasn’t possible?
       © 2012 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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