by J.C. Phillips

Asserting that almost one quarter of New Yorkers under age 18 are obese, New York Governor David Patterson has proposed an 18 percent tax increase on non diet drinks. The governor’s rationale is that “Significant price increases should discourage individuals, especially children and teenagers, from consumption and help fight obesity which results in higher risk for diabetes and heart disease.” Unfortunately, science is not on the governor’s side. There is no scientific research linking non diet drinks with obesity. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that, “There is no clear and consistent association between increased intake of added sugars and [body weight].” Conversely, there is quite a bit of non-scientific, anecdotal evidence suggesting the opposite is true. All of us have been witness to the incongruity of overweight customers concluding his/her fast food order with a diet drink.

The truth, of course, is that the purpose of the new tax is to help reduce the largest budget deficit in the state’s history driven in part by a scheduled 12 percent increase in Medicaid and healthcare costs. The current deficit is projected at $13.7 billion for 2009-10. This is no doubt why the governor projects the tax to raise $404 million during 2009-2010 and — get this — $539 million during fiscal 2010-2011. Apparently, the governor doesn’t trust the deterrent effect of his sugar tax. In fact, it seems that if the governor is going to pay the state’s bills, he needs people to drink non-diet soda and lots of it.

Putting our cynicism aside, let us suppose for a moment that the governor is sincere. Where is it written in the governor’s job description that he must enforce good dietary habits among the state’s citizens? You will receive no argument from me that too much soda is bad for one’s health. But so is too much chicken, too much chocolate, too much coffee or too much pasta. Are taxes to be increased on these food stuffs as well? The same observational evidence linking the obese with diet sodas links them with fried chicken.

What the governor doesn’t tell us(probably because he doesn’t care to know it) is that there are mountains of scientific studies demonstrating that artificial sweeteners – the same ones found in diet beverages — can have terrible side effects including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, migraines, dizziness and slurred speech.

Yes, Splenda is made from sugar, but it is actually a chlorinated hydrocarbon in the same class of chemicals used in industrial compounds like pesticides and industrial cleaners. A sugar molecule is taken and chlorine – the same stuff that you put in your pools – is added to it creating sucrolose or Splenda. This is the stuff that is poured into over 4500 “diet” products.

The irony is that that while there is no science connecting obesity with sugar sweetened drinks there is science that tells us that the human body has no way of digesting chlorinated hydrocarbons. They stay in the system permanently. What is more ironic is that researchers working with mice and sucrolose over a 12-week period found, among other things, that sucrolose actually made the mice fat.

So here is the governor of a state cynically using concerns over the public health to pass a tax to move people to a product that may actually be worse for them than the product taxed. Patterson may be the latest but he is certainly not the only executive willing to tell a white lie here or there supposedly for the people’s own good. Unfortunately for the people, the use of emotionalism and faulty, incomplete or junk science to justify noble lies told by philosopher kings is politics as usual.

Why the next thing you know, we’ll have some governor telling the people of his state that the earth is growing hotter and in order to reverse the effects of this warming and prevent world-wide catastrophe he needs to tax incandescent light bulbs. Oh wait…