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“Dis-Daines” for the Legislature

March 17, 2010

State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines has raised eyebrows several times in recent weeks with his aggressive advocacy of a beverage tax. Dr. Daines contends that soft drinks are the “single largest contributor to obesity” in the average person’s diet. He also says that sugared soft drinks are “far worse” than other foods containing higher levels of sugar and fat.

Scientific evidence undercuts Dr. Daines on both points: Soda consumption has declined in recent decades and now accounts for only about 5 percent of the average person’s caloric intake. Soda has lower amounts of sugar that many other popular food products.  

Dr. Daines has taken hard shots against state senators who oppose the beverage tax. One of those was Sen. Diane Savino, who last week warned that the new beverage tax would exacerbate a problem on Staten Island where people drive across the border to purchase products in New Jersey, which has lower taxes. Dr. Daines dismissed her concern and accused her of ignoring the plight of Staten Island’s obese kids.

As a general rule, commissioners of state agencies don’t openly criticize lawmakers.

Questions have been raised in Albany about whether Dr. Daines’ strident position on the matter may be related in some way to his religious beliefs. Dr. Daines is a former Mormon missionary. The founders of his faith strongly discouraged consumption of coffee, tea and soft drinks.

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