Letters for the Week of October 31, 2012 

Readers sound off on the Oakland Zoo, sex trafficking, Richmond's soda tax, and more.

Page 3 of 10

In closing, regarding the campaign spending on the No side on which Mr. Geluardi fixates, the money is being used primarily to educate voters about what Measure N really says and its predictable consequences — as well as to clear up Councilman Ritterman's misleading rhetoric and misportrayals that occasionally appear in articles such as Mr. Geluardi's.

Chuck Finnie

Spokesman, Community Coalition Against the Beverage Tax, No on Measure N

John Geluardi Responds

It is important to highlight that Mr. Finnie is a public relations consultant being handsomely rewarded by the American Beverage Association, which represents the interests of giant corporations such as Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo to spin the facts against Measure N. However, in Mr. Finnie's self-interested enthusiasm, he takes his argument off to a hazy wonderland of unattributed claims and baseless assertions.

To begin with, Mr. Finnie's assertion that my article is one-sided suggests he did not carefully read it. In fact, Mr. Finnie is quoted in the article, as is Richmond Councilman Nat Bates, who is perhaps the city's strongest opponent of Measure N. Furthermore, the ABA's arguments that the measure would hurt the poor and the organization's doubt about how the city would spend the revenue are put forward and attributed.

Mr. Finnie's assertion that the soft-drink industry is being unfairly demonized is interesting only in that he carefully avoids challenging the overwhelming amount of science that shows sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and some cancers. Instead he offers the unattributed, vague, and oversimplified response that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is on the decline while obesity is rising and that such drinks are only 7 percent of the average American's caloric intake. In fact, over the past thirty years Americans have increased their consumption by 278 calories per day and the largest dietary change in that period is an enormous increase in soda consumption, according to a 2009 study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

That study and others are so compelling that medical organizations like the American Diabetes Association, the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the American Heart Association have urged the Surgeon General of the United States to spur a national effort to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Interestingly, Mr. Finnie chose not to comment on the moral implications of the carbonated drink industry aggressively targeting ads ($474 million in 2006) to society's most vulnerable consumers, young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen who now represent the largest percentage of sugary-drink consumers.

Mr. Finnie further implies Richmond's store and restaurant owners would inappropriately comply with the soda tax by spreading the penny-per-once license fee to other items in their stores, thereby raising costs to all Richmond consumers. The implication is cynical and unfounded.

Mr. Finnie's claim that I "falsely" wrote that state law prevented the authors of Measure N from specifically earmarking funds for anti-obesity programs because of the California constitution is a crafty example of spin in that it appears to challenge what I wrote while at the same time validating it.

Finally, Mr. Finnie's assertion that the ABA is spending millions of dollars to alert Richmond voters about the "predictable consequences" of the measure is a portrayal stretched so thin it's transparent. Mr. Finnie and the ABA are not champions of the public good nor do they have an interest in the health and well being of Richmond residents. They are narrowly focused on their profit margins and very little else.

It's the Poverty, Stupid

When Richmond residents stood up to Chevron several years ago they made national news. Richmond voters taxed Chevron and stopped the company from processing heavy crude without adequate environmental protections. Today, Richmond is again making national news with a proposed regressive tax on sugar drinks. On the surface, considering the obesity rate among economically challenged residents, this may look like an attempt to help people develop healthier lifestyles by slowing down their consumption of sugar drinks. Under closer inspection, however, it reveals a callous middle-class bias against the poor.

The tax was authored and promoted by Richmond Councilman Jeff Ritterman, the former head of the Richmond Kaiser Cardiology Department. It is Dr. Ritterman's current position that sugar drinks are responsible for the high rate of obesity in Richmond's minority community, and, therefore, it is in the community's interest to discourage the consumption of such drinks by adding a hefty city tax on them. Interestingly enough, in a 2008 National Geographic special, "Stress: Portrait of a Killer," Dr. Ritterman expressed a broader view, stating that the daily stress of being poor is what leads to health problems. The relationship between obesity and stress was one of the primary points in the documentary. So what could change in four years that would lead Dr. Ritterman to change his emphasis and focus exclusively on the issue of sugar drinks? I would suggest that he is leading his middle-class constituency to take the reactionary position of blaming the victims and he is doing so for political reasons.

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