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Dear Reader,

The state of New York, like Arkansas and West Virginia before it, is trying to break the soda habit (and pick up some extra cash for the state). Governor David A. Paterson is working on getting a soda tax passed.

Of course, the soft drink industry isn't thrilled with the idea. So he's come up with a plan -- label diet sodas as a healthy choice and make them exempt from the tax. In fact, he's so supportive of diet sodas that he's even willing to eliminate the usual sales tax on them to appease the soft drink industry. He says it's all part of the effort to reduce obesity and improve health.

Yes, encouraging people to cut out sugary soft drinks might help with that. But if that's the real goal, then letting diet sodas slip through and characterizing them as part of a healthy lifestyle is a huge misstep. A spokesman for the Alliance for a Healthier New York is on board. He points to the money paid out to treat diabetes every year, and says in a New York Times article that this is a "win-win for New York."

You have got to be kidding me! They're really trying to paint this as a healthy move, with all the evidence screaming that artificial sweeteners are nothing but bad news? Of course, if all you're concerned with is counting calories, diet sodas look healthy. New York officials are talking about reducing obesity, getting people to eat and drink fewer calories, and equating this with an actual healthy lifestyle.

Longtime Nutrition & Healing and e-Tips readers know this is an absolute joke. For years, we've been covering the many health risks that come along with the bubbly stuff.

For one thing, there's aspartame. I could write a list a mile long about the problems with this one. Let's stick with one particularly scary one. Aspartame appears to cause both direct and indirect changes in brain chemistry. Research has shown that it can interfere with functioning of neurons and could be involved in development of learning disabilities as well as mental disorders.

And of course, none of the other artificial sweeteners are off the hook, either! For another thing, diet sodas (and sodas in general), often contain a preservative called sodium benzoate. This nasty stuff has been linked to numerous health problems. A couple of years back, Coca-Cola actually removed it from Diet Coke -- but only in the UK.

Or how about the problems with carbonated beverages in general? Soda is known to exacerbate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is linked to esophageal cancer. The many acids that make up soda are the culprits here ("Consumption of Carbonated Beverages," 2/28/2005).

It's pretty clear that the governor is making a political move, trying to keep industry bigwigs happy. (In fact, according to the New York Times, an anonymous administration official said the industry should "embrace this idea" because they want to sell product, and this proposal would increase the sale of diet products.) But it's also pretty clear they're willing to put their residents' health on the line to do that.

Yours in good health,

Christine O'Brien

Sources: "New Strategy for Soda Tax Gives Diet Drinks a Break," New York Times (
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