Posted by Linda Bonvie
January 20, 2015
By BILL BONVIE
Most fans of pop singer Taylor Swift are probably unacquainted with Peggy Lee and Diahann Carroll. And unless they watch old movies, they may never have heard of John Wayne, Robert Young or Claudette Colbert (and though they may know Ronald Reagan was president, they might not know he was once a movie actor as well).
But Swift has now joined these big entertainment names of yesteryear – along with famous athletes like Jackie Robinson and Joe DiMaggio – in helping lead legions of star-struck fans down a primrose path of addiction to a distinctly unhealthy commodity.
While the pernicious product endorsed by those earlier celebrities was tobacco, what Swift is now promoting is Diet Coke, which is probably the nation’s best known soft drink to be laced with the toxic artificial sweetener aspartame.
The evidence of just how hazardous diet soda can be to your health has been growing steadily for years. That was also the case with cigarettes when all those icons of movies, radio, television and sports were hired to pitch cigarette brands like Chesterfield, Camels and Lucky Strike (which is no doubt part of the reason they were recruited).
And if you compare those old tobacco ads with current promotions for products like Diet Coke, you’ll find another similarity as well. Hard as it may be to believe today, consumers were once told that various brands of cigarettes would help their digestion, soothe their throat, or were preferred by most doctors. One brand even tried to persuade women that smoking it will “keep you slim and beautiful.”
Which sounds a lot like the way diet drinks continue to be hyped, even though a growing body of research has shown that they can actually contribute to weight gain, as well as skin aging (and those may be the least of its adverse effects).
In fact, Swift (or rather the ad agency that conceived this particular campaign) has gone a step further in creating a glamorous image for Diet Coke by turning her endorsement for the synthetically-sweetened soda into an actual “relationship.”
Starting with a chummy greeting (“Hi guys, it’s Taylor”) she goes on to claim that she’ll “actually be making it official with one of the great loves of my life – Diet Coke.” She then invites the audience to become involved in “this partnership” involving “so many fun things” by going to (and liking) Diet Coke’s Facebook page, which is “the backstage pass to all of this” and will allow you to “know all kinds of stuff about it.”
Part of the “stuff,” apparently is the fanciful notion that every swig of Diet Coke will cause your cute and cuddly pet cat to multiply exponentially into a roomful of feline fuzziness. Or at least that seems to be the metaphorical message of yet another commercial video to be found at the product’s Facebook page.
The ‘stuff’ they’re not telling us
But there is “stuff” about Diet Coke (and other aspartame-laced beverages) that all of us — including Taylor Swift fans — really need to know before allowing ourselves to swallow either this hazardous liquid or the feel-good fantasies spun around it by creative con artists. And it’s the kind of information that Taylor, like many a smitten lass, seems to have ignored in proclaiming her “partnership” with this disreputable commodity.
In fact, she has already been asked to reconsider that union by Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Your endorsement carries great weight with your millions of young fans” whose risk of getting cancer might rise as a result, Jacobson noted. “Even if the increase in risk is small, we question whether you would want to lend your name, image, and reputation to any product linked to any increased risk of cancer,” he added.
But while that’s certainly a good recommendation, it could have been a lot stronger. Because the health issues related to aspartame go far beyond a “small” increase in the risk of getting cancer.
Aspartame, as regular readers of this blog should be well aware, has a rather notorious history of adverse “side effects,” thousands of which have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration as well as to the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network and other support group for those who have experienced them. These can include things like migraines, seizures, mood swings and vision problems (perhaps accounting for the apparent multiplicity of cats in the ad) – which is why airline pilots are advised to stay away from products containing it.
In fact, the controversy surrounding this sweetener dates back to its original approval by an FDA commissioner over the opposition of the agency’s scientific advisers – one who later went to work for the industry – as a political favor, and the misrepresentation of test results, which linked it to brain tumor development in rodents and grand mal seizures in rhesus monkeys. (You can read more about that in our blog from last March here.)
In addition, aspartame is in the class of additives known as “excitotoxins” because of their ability to destroy certain brain cells by literally exciting them to death, which makes it especially dangerous to children and the elderly.
All of which is reflected in some the comments found on Diet Coke’s Facebook page (As one reader commented, “Love kittens and Taylor Swift. Too bad it has to be attached to Diet Coke.”)
And is why Taylor Swift would indeed be well advised to “Shake It Off” (as CSPI suggests) and get “Clean” away from her fledgling “partnership with Diet Coke, lest her embrace of this toxic bad actor end up being viewed in the same light as are those ill-starred celebrity endorsements for tobacco products.
Bill Bonvie’s recently published essay Collection “Repeat Offenders” is available at Amazon.com.