AARP's latest swell idea: let's tax sugar

Dubious study inspires add-on to Bloomberg's nanny state meddling.

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2012 – Just when you think you’ve heard and seen everything, another idiocrat outrage hits the individual freedom fan. Hard on the heels of New York mayor Bloomberg’s anti-Big Gulp sugary drink blathering, the AARP—America’s alleged senior citizens lobby—has proposed a special national tax on sugar itself. Seriously, we’re not kidding. In the latest issue (June 2012) of its “AARP Bulletin” tabloid, AARP launches its virtual Bloomberg amicus brief against sugar in a page 3 Jim Toedtman editorial.

Linking Adam Smith to George Washington to the American “obesity epidemic,” Toedtman touts the benefits of a new one-cent national tax on sweetened beverages, claiming massive health benefits for this levy investment:

sugar cubes.

AARP’s vision of the average American’s diet.

“A 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages—adding 20 cents to the cost of a $1.25 bottle of soda—would prevent nearly 2.4 million cases of diabetes, 95,000 cases of heart disease, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 premature deaths in the next decade,” is Toedtman’s breathless claim.

Such a tax would be no big deal, Toedtman declares, claiming that the “’fat tax’” is hardly a new idea. State and local sales taxes generally include soft drinks and candy,” he grandly proclaims, omitting the fact that such taxes also include apples, tomatoes, milk, and soybean products as well, not to mention horribly unhealthy substances like meat, butter, and eggs. But hey, what’s a logical fallacy among redistributionist friends?

Is Toedtman pulling his numbers out of a place where you shouldn’t usually be pulling numbers? It’s more than likely. His stats, he claims, are based on a “new California study.” But, in a typical journalista sin of omission, he neglects to provide any reference to this “study” at all.

Our suspicions aroused, we did a little sleuthing ourselves, and it didn’t take much to unearth the study in question. It appeared in the February 2012 issue of Nature, a once respected science publication that, like Science—a favorite propaganda tool of global warmists climate change fanatics—has increasingly become a key tool enabling the elitist left to promote faux science as fact.

The University of California’s online newsroom touts the study here, giving us our first clue into its nature and quality:


Sweetness like this may soon be a thing of the past.

“In the Feb. 2 issue of Nature, Robert Lustig, M.D., Laura Schmidt, Ph.D., MSW, MPH, and Claire Brindis, DPH, colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, argue that sugar’s potential for abuse, coupled with its toxicity and pervasiveness in the Western diet, make it a primary culprit of this worldwide health crisis.” Abuse? Toxicity?

Robert Lustig? Does that name ring a bell? It does indeed, at least for the online Center for Consumer Freedom, which picked the Lustig-led study apart the day it hit the newsstands. The Center’s short rebuttal to this study provides deeper insights into Lustig’s anti-sugar study that the University of California newsroom intentionally chose to overlook in its puff piece.

For starters, the Center’s piece chides “the Orwellian musing of Dr. Robert Lustig, whose new commentary in the journal Nature calls for, among other draconian infringements on personal choice, massive taxes on sugar-containing foods, laws to restrict the amount of sugar in food, and even carding people who buy soda.” Hmm, we wonder why neither UC nor AARP mentioned this.

“Lustig claims sugar is as ‘toxic’ like tobacco and alcohol and should be controlled like adult beverages,” continues the Center for Consumer Freedom’s rebuttal. “Last year The New York Times Magazine featured Lustig’s radical claims of ‘toxic sugar,’” the article continues, “in a piece written by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ‘independent investigator.’ (Remember that group?) His lecture on the ‘Bitter Truth’ of sugar has over a million YouTube views. It didn’t matter that most responsible researchers (like one who called Lustig’s claims ‘a humbug’) didn’t give the idea credence: Lustig got his name in the newspaper.”

Big Gulp in hand.

AARP thinks this hapless dude is the new American Toxic Avenger.

The Center’s article also provides scientific rebuttal as well:

“Mercifully, these three researchers [Lustig and his associates] don’t speak for the medical community as a whole. One professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City told ABC News that ‘Sugar does not cause obesity and diabetes.  Excess causes those, and it doesn’t matter where the excess comes from.’ And a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association asked the question we’ve been asking for some time, namely, ‘What about lack of physical activity?’ The whole tenor of Lustig’s piece led a Sydney University dietitian to tell The Australian, ‘I’m disgusted that Nature would publish this.’”

Even at least nominally liberal scientists question the validity of the Lustig “study’s” dubious, alarmist conclusions. In (of all places) the Huffington Post, David Katz, MD, director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center (the guy that called Lustig a “humbug”), and no particular fan of elevated sugar consumption, notes that “The redundant aspirations of dietary dualistic iconoclasts over a span of decades have done us no favors. This good vs. evil foodview invited us all to cut fat and eat Snackwell cookies; then to cut carbs while ignoring trans fat. We could waste a lot of time and squander a lot of health finding more, equally silly places to go.” Katz’ Huffpo piece is entitled, “Sugar Isn’t Evil: A Rebuttal.”

“It is the overall quality, and quantity, of our diet that matters to health,” Katz continues, “not just one villainous or virtuous nutrient du jour.” Katz does come down in favor of more veggies and less fructose sweeteners in our diet in his piece—the former being sensible advice, the latter linked to another faux-science myth—so the Yale prof can scarcely be denounced as a right wingnut. Nonetheless, even he views Lustig’s crusade as pushing the envelope or jumping the shark, indicating just how isolated Lustig’s study remains, Nature publication notwithstanding.

(Below: Da Fonz literally “jumps the shark” in the “Happy Days” TV episode that unwittingly inspired the term.)

Lustig is just the latest in an increasingly long line of government-funded university “scientists” who’ve been pushing yet another front in the political culture wars by finding new dangers and “health epidemics” under every rock the better to A.) Get the Federal government to fund more of their studies; and B.) Help American leftists find new corporate tax and penalty income streams to supplement the increased taxes they’re afraid to openly vote for.

The most recent ongoing example of this phenomenon is the tobacco industry shakedown. The money here was supposed to support “tobacco and health research and smoking prevention.” But most of it has been dumped into the kitty and used to grow state, local, and Federal government oversight and employment.

AARP’s sugar attack is just the latest in an endless parade of ill-supported, thinly-veiled attempts at further income redistribution via government and regulatory growth and taxation. The bogus science behind this nonsense is bad enough. Making things worse is the fact that rich, lefty elites–whether in taxpayer-funded government (Bloomberg) or taxpayer-funded higher education (Lustig)–indulge in this kind of freedom-limiting nanny state grandstanding as a way of diverting attention away from the most deadly-serious issues of our time: restoring the economy, reducing unemployment, and unwinding government debt.

But the economy is the least of our problems, at least in the world of AARP’s Jim Toedtman, who apparently regards the “settled science” of our alleged “obesity epidemic” as a far, far worse problem than being out of work for years. Dismissing the Supreme Court’s impending decision on AARP-supported Obamacare as “beside the point,” Toedtman declares that what’s really “the most important health care initiative for the country is to begin living smarter.” How one can do that without a salary while paying more for soft drinks seems to elude his grasp as he asks rhetorically: “Don’t you think a tax on soda, fruit punch, sweet tea, and sports drinks is a start?”

spoonful of sugar.

Need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down? AARP says it’ll cost ya.

Umm, no Jimbo, we don’t.

Yale’s Katz offers more reasonable advice on the issue. “As dietary guidance,” he writes, “the vilification of one nutrient at a time has proven as flighty as hummingbirds, propelling us from one version of humbug to another. My advice is to grasp firmly your common sense, and stay grounded.”

The Prudent Man would add a bit of additional advice: if you want to protect your investments and avoid living the rest of your life out of a shopping cart, start dumping your membership in vile, hard-left lobbying organizations like AARP and the Sierra Club that work tirelessly against your own best interests. And, no matter what your party affiliation, only vote for candidates this fall who will take our economic disaster seriously rather than appealing to you with silly, diversionary sidecar issues like taxing or banning sugar and sugary drinks. What we choose to eat or drink is none of the government’s damned business.

Getting our government out of the way of business and putting hard-working Americans back to work is job one for all of us, moving forward. All the nannies, the meddlers, the crony capitalists, the overpaid government hacks, the taxpayer-supported drones, and the perpetual left-wing kvetchers can go find another country if they don’t like it here.


Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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