GUEST COMMENTARY | The War on Sugar: ‘Yes’ on 2A’
by Rick Silverman
Oct 24, 2013 | 1420 views | 1 1 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A lot of anger has crept into our local debate.  And while I’m a political junkie, the Proposition 2A detractors have generated fireworks, now let’s clear some smoke.

Considering Telluride’s historic willingness to brave new terrain of this isn’t surprising.

We’ve always pushed bounds, largely with good results, but we argue shrilly.  We startled the world with L.L. Nunn’s electric generation, the year-long garrison of union busting troops in the Sheridan, and municipal financing based on taxing bordellos.

We’ve built an economy and lifestyle doing things that were risky and inventive, and most with remarkable style and success.

Consider: Financing the arts (“not a civic function”), medical center (“chooses favorites”), acquisition of Bear Creek and Valley Floor (“bankrupt the Town”), outlawed cigarettes in restaurants and bars (“it’ll put them out of business”), banned coal-burning and fireplaces in a then-polluted canyon (“skiers won’t go where they can’t have a fireplace”), historic and architectural controls (“will destroy the real estate market”), restored a condemned old school building rather than convert it into condos (“ruin the tax base”), built a great library (“too ambitious, libraries are dinosaurs), capped poisonous tailings (‘”can’t fight corporate giant”), a  commercial free radio (“hippie nonsense”), subsidized housing (“not the public’s business”) alternative fueled buses, welcome gay ski groups, naked bike race, subsidize scientists and solar cells, freed Bridal Veil ice, globally praised film festivals, Bluegrass, protected wilderness and schools that run with the big dogs.

These once radical initiatives, now woven into the community fabric, not merely failed to kill the town but have made living and visiting here, something unique, something better. Now, we’re to believe that a thoughtful plan to sustain the most effective after school program we’ve ever experienced, a modest penny per ounce tax on sugary beverages will render us paupers, strip freedoms, and impose impossible burdens.


No one is being forbidden from buying or drinking anything. A penny per ounce on 100 12-ounce cans of Coke will cost you 12 bucks. (How does that compare with taxation on a glass of beer, or a day ticket for skiing on public land above Kids Hill?)

The “administrative nightmare” of collection (we already parse taxes in this community for marketing, airline subsidies, etc.), won’t be done by costly cash register/software jujitsu, but routinely addressed by retailers when purchasing known volumes of Cokes and Red Bulls from their distributors, then paid 10 percent of the revenues for their troubles.  Jerry Greene is one of this town’s smartest and most creative people (he literally built KOTO and was a fine council person...he will get it.).  Bob Harnish, a bit more daunting for you, but I’ll come down to your place in Montrose if it’s helpful, or you can just turn to your industry friends who have been paying for your ads, been living and “polling” secretly amongst us, and see if they will continue to back you up with tech support.

The crux of the issue is that Telluride is part (though we so want to believe were young immortals) of a nation that is getting heavier, sicker, and pays more for medical and social costs that result than any nation in the world.  And, while our kids are healthier than most (our men smarter and our women infinitely so) they too are spending more time at computer screens and consuming more empty and irrefutably disease-causing calories than any generation before, by thousands of parent numbing hours and ounces.

Evolving scientific reality (once we didn’t know about damage from lead, nicotine addiction or insecticide carcinogens) is that sugary beverages contribute more to the problem than donuts or chocolate croissants. They screw up a body physiologically designed to process water as our liquid, and illnesses that result are overrunning health care systems, and adding enormously to the costs of everyone’s Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance.

Here with a public school committed to educating the “whole child” and a supportive town structure that helps with space and alignment (administrative fees capped at 10 percent of collected fees) we can fight back.

Pie in the sky?  Federally audited data (serious green eyeshade Scrooge type) shows last year 81 percent of our students participated in PEP  (a federal grant to Telluride and Norwood ending next October but whose efforts can be sustained by 2A passage) programs, Zumba , cooking, judo, flag football, swimming, youth soccer, gardening, rock climbing, nordic skiing, grow dome assembly (hands on)summer scholarships, and more.

 Kids have bought in.  They are healthier, more socially assimilated and thrilled with after- school programs directed to those who don’t find their interests met by traditional school athletics.  Working parents know where there kids are and library afternoons may go back to being something other than a repository for understandably amped kids who struggle with “find a good book and shut up.”

Will they fare better academically and socially? Hell yes. Research data screams that the most common cause of bullying is weight and appearance, and all published reports tell us that the heavy and the sick are further victimized in employment  and evolving adult worlds. We want to teach our kids to be tolerant of diversity of bodies and minds, but in the meantime we know that overweight kids become more susceptible to anxiety and depression – eating more, avoiding school, dropping out of physical activities to avoid embarrassment. 

Is it fair to use energy and advice of Harvard, Yale or U.C. Davis scientists to promote this?  I believe so and throw in my dollars because we know the beverage industry  (Coke, Pepsi, Phillip-Morris) are spending billions of dollars to hook our kids early and keep them addicted.  They pitch through polar bears, athletes, Michael Jackson and Santa’s workshop; they create new products to avoid scrutiny and broaden their market (vitamin water and energy drinks).  They acquire once free water systems around the world, packaging it for pricey resale, and spend billions more lobbying every legislature in the country to avoid disclosure.

Predatory addiction is nasty stuff.  Adults can drink anything they want, I’ve had my share of colas and won’t cut back my moments in the Sheridan or Buck. But Coke on the family table is a poison, and maybe this kind of skirmish will encourage some families to have important discussions and change habits.

A can of Coke is 12 teaspoons of sugar and some nasty chemicals that actually reduce the sweetness so you can get it down, though creating enough tooth decay that we all know our dentists on a first-name basis.

Higher stakes? Diabetes is not curable. It induces cardiovascular diseases, stroke, cancer, blindness, amputation, and doctors tell us that the chronically ill struggle to find veins for their insulin injections and the means to support their families. Are zombies real? Maybe, but diabetics sure are, but don’t get HBO time slots, though their numbers are exploding, too.

Will 2A erase problems? Certainly not; tipping points are uncertain and the industry will rain down unthinkable sums. They are terrified of communities taking them on, sharing truths and slowly changing their profitable paradigm.

Are we succumbing to the nanny state because we ask government to make judicious choices – whiskey to kids, seat-belts, compulsory education or fire codes? Ted Cruz might believe that; I don’t.

2A provides a continuing funding stream that will sustain kids’ (Lawson, Downvalley, Mountain Village or Mountain School) activities for which we have no other means.  Some might prefer another nonprofit, more begging hands, cake sales or already overstressed school teachers or budgets.  Show me the money!

Will 2A benefit the local economy? I’ll bet anyone that it will.  “The Town That Is Willing To Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is” (literally and figuratively) is an editor’s dream, and that can launch a contagion keeping the beverage industry’s PR firms on overtime), complete with mountain backdrops, kids on skis, and handsome Victorian storefronts. And it will signal to our extended community – like us, feisty – that Telluride is still a special place, and still able to ski the big moguls.
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October 31, 2013
Put your money in someone else's mouth and you can control their weight ? How privileged of us Tellurididans to be smart and thin and in control ! If we just tax THOSE people !you know the fat ones! we,ll all be thin and rich and beautiful ! Sometimes throwing money at a problem doesn't make it go away. A sin tax absolves you ,and punishes them? No.

Just vote no and get this sermon over with.