It's time to toast saccharin's removal from the carcinogen list. Please pass the Tab
Good news! You can lift your moratorium on Tab! Choose pink packets instead of blue to sweeten your tea! Guiltlessly drink Kroger's cranberry-juice cocktail! Brush your teeth or rinse your mouth without fear of cancer! Smack your sugarless gum till you drive everyone nuts!
Yes, the federal government has taken saccharin off its list of carcinogens. Those lab rodents who developed deadly diseases after imbibing mass quantities of the artificial sweetener are long gone. Their legacy: A world that is now our oyster (albeit artificially sweetened). One we can nibble, sip or brush or gargle with abandon.
"This is absolutely good news for everybody; it's setting the story straight," says Lyn Nabors, executive vice president of the Calorie Control Council in Atlanta. The nonprofit association represents the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry.
"Hopefully this will stop the rumors that there is a problem with it, and hopefully at some point you'll see it in new products."
Right now, frankly, saccharin is not in nearly as many products as aspartame. (However, it definitely has its place in the vernacular. Can you imagine someone or something being described as "aspartame sweet?" Of course not. But we digress.)
Tab, of course, has always contained saccharin. Ditto for a tiny fistful of other diet drinks. Ms. Nabors has fielded calls from home-canners, wondering where to find saccharin tablets to sweeten their pickle bath. She personally makes a yummy salad dressing with tomato soup, vinegar and saccharin.
But most saccharin seems to be found in little pink packets - which, more often than not, appear next to little blue packets in diners and coffeehouses.
"I think Equal has always been more popular," says Almerde Snyman, operations director for the three Coffee Haus java shops in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "I guess it's because of what people used to think was in the Sweet 'N Low."
Ms. Nabors, on the other hand, says, "I think people who have used [saccharin] for years, and there are many of them, are not concerned [about health risks] and haven't been."
We should be, warns Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He was "not surprised but distressed" that saccharin was taken off the carcinogen list.
"Fortunately, this decision presumably won't lead to a huge epidemic of cancer," he says from his Washington, D.C., office. "But we should try to keep out of the food supply any unnecessary chemicals that contribute to the risk of cancer, and saccharin is certainly unnecessary."
Truth to tell, though, probably not many of us have lost much sleep over the cancer-or-not saccharin debate. And if we're aware there was a danger, well, many of us figured it had been resolved long ago.
"This not earth-shattering news," registered dietitian Anne Daly says of saccharin's removal from the list. She is national vice president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association.
"We felt sooner or later, they'd get rid of the black mark [on saccharin]. That lurking fear in the back of people's minds has pretty much evaporated totally. We're tired of talking about it."
For 20 years, she's been telling patients that she personally consumes saccharin. Association literature long has stated that saccharin is safe if taken in reasonable amounts.
Juan Garcia / DMN Saccharin-sweetened Tab diet cola isn't one of Coca-Cola's big sellers, but it's kept a loyal following.
Tab-lover Rhonda Heatly simply likes the taste and the fact that saccharin makes her beloved beverage calorie-free. She had heard saccharin might cause cancer, but she also had read that the amount given to lab mice was unrealistically enormous.
"I drank Diet Coke for a while, but it had an aftertaste," says Ms. Heatly, 35, who works for Southwest Airlines. "I recently read all this stuff about how NutraSweet [found in diet drinks under the name aspartame] is very damaging to your brain, so I went back to Tab." (In 1974, aspartame's FDA approval was stayed because of claims the product might cause brain tumors.)
Gads. Seems if one product won't kill us, another's waiting in the wings to do the deed.
Liz Stokes has a seizure disorder; her neurologist advised her not to consume NutraSweet because, he told her, it collects in the brain. She has been diagnosed as reactive hypoglycemic and can't have sugar.
"Saccharin supposedly causes cancer, but I love saccharin," says Ms. Stokes, a 32-year-old paralegal. "When I was a little kid drinking tea, I liked it really sweet. But tea won't absorb the, oh, 16 teaspoons of sugar. My mother turned me on to two Sweet 'n Lows, and that's sooo sweet."
A friend of Susan Chambers' won't drink Diet Coke because she also has heard the rumors about aspartame. Ms. Chambers' husband, Dick, refuses to pour the blue-packet powder into anything he imbibes. Not because of cancer or neurological fears, though. He just doesn't like it.
"He's more concerned with the taste," says Ms. Chambers, who lives in Irving. "He's pretty particular about it. When we go to [a certain restaurant], which doesn't have the pink stuff, he brings his own. He always carries it with him."
Mr. Chambers, a diabetic, puts Sweet 'N Low in iced tea and uses it to sweeten lemonade and limeade. He sprinkles it on his cereal. He will drink Diet Dr Pepper, though; she prefers Diet Coke.
It's all a matter of taste, says Trey Paris, manager of global communications for the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta.
"There are still many, many loyal Tab drinkers who tell us they very much want and like the brand Tab," he says. "They like Tab sweetened with saccharin. Diet Coke drinkers like Diet Coke sweetened with aspartame."
Tab, loyal following though it may have, still hovers close to the bottom rung on the Coca-Cola popularity ladder. Still, the company has no plans to rev up the advertising just because Tab's sweetener is now back in good graces.
"We obviously think this is a good development, an important development for the soft drink industry," Mr. Paris says. "But it wouldn't influence the way we sell and market Tab."