05/10/2010 04:47 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Storey Behind the Soda Tax

The question I have for Dr Maureen Storey is a simple one: How do you look into a mirror and accept what faces you every day? Or do you just avoid self-reflection completely?

OK, unfair. That was two questions. But Storey is accustomed to not playing fairly, so I don't feel too bad about it.

As Senior Vice President, Science Policy, of the American Beverage Association, it is Storey's job to tell media entities like NPR that "with a little bit of flavoring and a little bit of sweetness, [children] will drink enough, then, to get back to where they need to be."

Yes, she's referring to soda, the very drink at the center of a rather heated debate. Last week while passing a television in my gym, I noticed an ad demonizing the proposed Beverage Tax, in which the New York State government would require a one-cent-per-ounce tax on drinks containing sugar. The idea is to help curb weight gain, which is occurring in epic proportions in the US.

The beverage industry is crying foul, calling on soda drinkers with faux-grassroots campaigns to lobby senators, congressmen, whoever will listen. The tax may raise some beverages by more than 50%, which the industry is using as incentive for people to rage against the machine. The government hopes that the tax will help to slow (and ultimately reverse) obesity, while opponents reference communism and other such catch words to put the consumer in fear.

Sugar is only part of this story, however. There's caffeine--lots of it. An average twelve-ounce can of soda contains as much as a cup of instant coffee, and 20 oz bottles are the norm these days, while the McDonald's large, for example, is tipping over at 32 ounces. Being that the "kick" in caffeine is not some form of mythical energy but the body struggling to deal with increased blood levels of stress hormones, this isn't going to add nutritional advantages to a bottle of Sprite.

An average twelve-ounce can of soda includes between nine and ten teaspoons of sugar. But it's not only what the drink puts into you, it's also what it robs you of. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that gulping soft drinks in place of nutrient rich beverages, such as fresh juices, leads to insufficient intake of magnesium, riboflavin, calcium, vitamins A and C. On top of that, caffeinated soda affects the body's ability to absorb and metabolize the nutrients it does receive. The combination of this much sugar and caffeine is literally putting the body into constant shock.

So how, Dr Storey, does it feel to spout this insane blather about soda being a great way to refuel when diabetes is predicted to affect 15% of all American adults by 2015, a rate that will prove much higher in children if we keep up our current diet? The total cost of diabetes in America in 2007, the latest year full statistics are available for, was $174 billion. And you're complaining about a penny an ounce?

I do agree with opponents that taxing beverages is not going to be a cure-all to nationwide obesity. The fact that our government is taxing the problem to treat the problem by (hopefully) injecting that money into health care is not an optimal situation. But it's a start, one that we desperately need.

The Division of Budget states that 25% of New York residents are overweight. Living a block away from a Brooklyn McDonald's, it saddens me when I walk by and see pre-teen children slugging back large sodas. Twenty-five percent seems low when half of these kids struggle to walk in a straight line due to their weight. It's a sad reality, but one that we cannot remain quiet about. While nothing in that restaurant, or the hundreds like it around this city, can be described as "healthy," those thirty-two ounce cups are not helping anything.

Think about that: if twelve-ounce cans contain nine to ten teaspoons of sugar, then one lunchtime large, which contains 86 grams of sugar, includes roughly 24 teaspoons. Does that happen to sound nutritionally "unsound" to you, Dr Storey?

My favorite part--if by favorite I mean most desperate--of her NPR interview is when Storey states, "A full-calorie soft drink has 90 percent water, and a diet soft drink is 99 percent water. Water is the most important nutrient that we have." There is a beverage called, believe it or not, Krank20. It's caffeinated water. The tagline is "Water with caffeine, lots of caffeine."

While I'm sure she's already got her hands in the coffers of the industry that puppets such ridiculous nonsense from her mouth, perhaps the more humble-sized Krank20 borrowed a page from her storeybook? If we can't trust our "doctors" to offer sound nutritional advice, to whom do we turn?

I support this tax if only because it's further raising the issue of our overtaxed bodies. Even if it does not pass, which would be a shame, hopefully some soda drinkers, especially parents of soda drinkers, will come to their senses. We have to turn the mirrors on ourselves, because by now we've got to realize professional help is long in coming.