Just for the taste of it . . . and maybe to steady your hand

March 17, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

A recent report on ABC's "Day One" showed that nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, is not simply an unfortunate byproduct of tobacco. Rather, cigarette companies actually control the amount of nicotine in each cigarette. By increasing the dose just a bit, they can turn the screws on the helpless smoker -- increasing his fix and his need for another one.

I can't prove it, but I know the folks who make Diet Coke are doing the same thing to me.

Diet Coke is not just a harmless bit of effervescence to help spark my taste buds and my day. There is caffeine in there. And the folks who make it know just how much I need to keep me going. I know they are jacking up the dose every couple of months, sinking their icy hooks deeper into me with each sip. They have me, and they will never let me go.

Know how I know? I tried to quit.

Like the coffee drinker who needs his steaming jolt at dawn, I can't make it without my Diet Coke to start the day. I never drink my first frosty tumbler at breakfast -- the kids would want root beer with their cereal -- but I want to.

Instead, I hold off until late morning. By 11 a.m., I am a little shaky and a lot irritable. My mouth is dry, and I cannot think about anything else. I have to have my Diet Coke, and I have to have it now.

I hop in my car and drive to the nearest convenience store and for 94 cents (with tax), I have my wax cup, my plastic lid, my straw and my Diet Coke.

I could get a two-liter bottle for about the same price. I could get a whole case of cans at Sam's Club for a couple of dollars more. But I don't. I would drink it all. I would stand by the sink and fill my glass with fresh ice and I would drink until it looked as if I were living in a recycling center. I would be like Al Pacino in "Scarface," face down in a pile of cocaine on his desk.

I am not alone in this. Admit it. You need your diet soda fix, and you know the best place to score it. You know which fast-food chain has the worst stuff and you know which convenience store has the best. And as you make your daily round of errands, you just happen to find yourself in the neighborhood. You stop in. Just for a quick one.

You sip on one as you shop. There is one in the cup holder in your car. You slip down to the machine during your daughter's ballet class and drink it while you wait -- quickly, before the can gets warm. My husband says he knows just where I have been because, like Hansel and Gretel in the forest, I have left a half-consumed diet soda nearby.

Just like the cigarette smoker, you always have one at your fingertips. With no-smoking areas expanding daily, he can only light up in the middle of a four-lane highway. But you, you Diet BTC Coke-heads, you can do it anywhere.

Seen the new Diet Coke ads? The one where the women office workers gather at 11:30 to watch out the window as the stud construction worker peels off his shirt and downs his Diet Coke in one masculine swallow? That's Etta James in the background singing, "I just wanna make love to you." Sex and Diet Coke, the ultimate subconscious link.

What a laugh. Don't they know that they could show us Pee-wee Herman in bunny ears and we'd still buy. And buy. And buy.

When you meet your friends for lunch, you ask for a slice of lime in your Diet Coke. How refined. Who are you kidding? It isn't the vitamin C you are after, it is the caffeine. That buzz in your head will make you witty and energized, will make you fun to be with. Don't you know that isn't you talking anymore? It is the Diet Coke.

You want to quit. You can't. Don't even bother to try. Trust me, it doesn't work.

I know the Nutrasweet in diet drinks can cause headaches or worse. I know the bubbles in my glass will soon be bubbles in my bones as osteoporosis renders me brittle. I know that caffeine makes my stomach burn, my nerves raw and my PMS rage. I can't imagine why I want to -- need to -- drink anything that brown. I know I need to quit. I can't.

I wonder if Betty Ford knows about this? Is there some place I can go, some 12 steps I can take to free myself of this wax cup, this straw, this can, this addiction?

Can't deal with that now. Can't think that out. My brain is fuzzy with a kind of white noise, and my mouth is dry. My hands search my pockets for a stray dollar bill. I need my Diet Coke.

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