While we have spent much of the week talking about the political machinations around the soda tax, the underlying issue has gotten short shrift. I found Friday’s column by Bob Dunning offensive and a cheap shot.
He writes, “[P]aying for the sins of others … so, the other night, as our esteemed City Council was considering ways of taxing the citizenry — including the punitive ‘soda pop tax’ — a physician approached the public microphone to make her point.”
Mr. Dunning continues, “’I am a Coke addict,’ she said, according to the excellent report by Felicia Alvarez in this very newspaper … the good doctor went on to note that she had been diagnosed as pre-diabetic in her early 50s after a lifetime of drinking several sodas a day … she then went on to urge the council to put the soda pop tax on the June ballot …”
He adds, “In other words, because she was not smart enough, despite her medical training, to realize that Coca Cola was not good for her, the whole town will be punished for her bad habit … I mean, Diet Coke has been around for a long, long time and is generally available right next to the full-strength stuff wherever soda pop is sold. Doctor, heal thyself … and leave the rest of us alone …”
I find this kind of commentary offensive and dismissive. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Tia Will, the subject of this column. I don’t always agree with her and she doesn’t always agree with me, but no one can doubt her sincerity and her commitment to public health issues.
I have shared my struggles with diabetes in the past. One of the things I talked with Dr. Harold Goldstein about is that few people who don’t have diabetes understand just how bad the disease is, how many aspects of people’s lives the disease encompasses.
We acknowledge that drugs and alcohol have addictive qualities that physically and mentally compel the user to consume more, and often in higher qualities. We tend as a society to look down on addicts, we criminalize the act, we look at it as a weakness. I believe we need to look at addiction as a whole as a public health issue, rather than a criminal issue.
I think we need to look at the consumption of sugary foods and sugary beverages in much the same way. I am grateful to Robb Davis for eloquently articulating it – this is the public health crisis of our times.
I can tell you, I think diabetes is far more difficult to kick than drugs and alcohol and I’ll explain why. I used to work with a group of recovering alcoholics. They attended AA. The key thing about AA (whether it works or not is debatable) is abstinence. They believe that alcoholics cannot simply consume one drink.
I can go to a bar, have a beer or two and not drink again for a month, two months, even a year. But an alcoholic takes even one drink and they are likely to fall off the wagon again.
I am an addict too. I am addicted to sugar. If I have one cookie, I have ten cookies, I have a box of cookies. I have ten boxes of cookies. The problem is that, unlike the alcoholic, I have to consume sugar in some form or another. I cannot simply abstain from sugar, as I cannot abstain from food – and so every single day I have to struggle to maintain the right balance, and it is the hardest thing I have ever done.
So when I hear Bob Dunning say, “Doctor, heal thyself … and leave the rest of us alone …” the response I want is a four-letter word followed by a three-letter word.
Dr. Goldstein shared with me the tactics of the sugary beverage industry, and he very articulately described a sugary beverage as a sugar delivery system. What he couldn’t describe is how it feels as a diabetic to receive that delivery system, how it impacts my heart, my body. I can feel that sugar in my system almost instantly, and not only does it wreak havoc on my system, it leaves me wanting more.
We are killing our kids. When Dr. Goldstein talks about the number of kids who are diabetic and pre-diabetic, we are consigning them to a life of misery and suffering that most people cannot imagine.
This isn’t about depriving the community of their ability to consume sugar, this is about saving our children from the horrors of diabetes. This is about bringing public awareness to an issue that remains hidden in plain sight.
Will the soda tax work? I have no idea. I don’t think we knew what would happen when Davis became one of the first cities to ban smoking in public facilities. What we recognized is that, over time, smoking kills. The cigarette industry made billions off delivering a product that first addicted people, and then killed them.
In a lot of ways sugary beverages are the same. Dr. Goldstein cited data that suggested that half of the obesity, and by extension the problem of diabetes, is attributed to sugary beverages.
Some object that cigarettes are a drug – well, I believe sugar is a drug. It certainly acts like one to me – it changes my body chemistry, it changes my emotional responses, it impacts my health. And if I do not conquer my addiction, it will kill me – not today, but down the line. Just as smoking will likely kill millions of people through lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other respiratory diseases.
At the end of the day, Dr. Will did a very brave thing by relating her personal experience. She invited the ridicule of the insensitive. I don’t know that the soda tax will be the answer, but I believe that, for the sake of our children, we need to start somewhere.
—David M. Greenwald reporting