It should come as no surprise that Diet
Coke has become so popular with the image conscious and incredibly famous -- after all, Coke crafted this beverage specifically for them.
By 1980, Coke had determined that nearly 20% of people were drinking diet
sodas, a market that was dominated by the saccharin-
flavored Tab. At the same time, sales of Jane Fonda's videotaped workout were all the rage, triggered by a boom in VCR sales, in the same way that sales of the George Foreman grill have been intensified by the rise of the no-carb Atkins revolution. With sugar-free and caffeine-free sodas already hitting the market, both Coke and Pepsi
smelled opportunity and made aggressive moves towards new diet
colas in the spring of 1982.
Coke launched Diet
Coke in July 1982 with a $100 million ad campaign, putting the swooshy wave trademark on a product other than Coca-Cola for the first time since 1886, when the company was formed. With an up and coming newcomer, Pepsi
, boasting strong sales for 7-Up and rolling out caffeine-free sodas, the move had Coke supporters doubting the company could pull it off.
"If they adulterate the name of Coke, they have lost their minds," said a member of Coke's bottling committee to The Wall Street Journal
. "It breaks my heart, but if they put $100 million behind it, they'll create a market for it."
And create a market they did -- especially in New York, one of Diet
Coke's first markets and the target of a $12 million marketing blitz. Coke threw a gala launch party at the Radio City Music Hall, filming a commercial with the Rockettes, then busing guests over to the West Side Pier, which had been redone to look like a New York City street fair. Once there, guests ate hot dogs, tasted that wild, new diet
soda and cheered when fireworks spelled out "Diet
Coke" over the waters of the Hudson River. Diet
Coke was an instant smash. By Christmas of 1982, it had become the third most-popular soda in New York City, trailing only Coke and Pepsi
in sales. Giddy and stunned Coke execs told Wall Street that Diet
Coke was on track to become the second most popular beverage in the company's history after six months on the market, despite only being available in a third of all U.S homes. Hoping to deal a knockout blow to Pepsi's diet
vision, Coke kicked production into overdrive and pushed Diet
Coke in two-thirds of the U.S by the end of January 1983.
A year after being introduced, Diet
Coke became the best selling low-calorie soft drink in America -- a position it has never relinquished. By 1986, Diet
Coke -- or Coca-Cola Light, as it is known abroad -- was the most popular low-calorie beverage in the world, served in 61 countries.
As Dr. Martini tells us, "The first correspondence I had with President [sic] George Bush was when he was Governor of Texas. He was about to sign into law the Dietetics Practice Act. At the time, Monsanto owned NutraSweet and I explained that the dieticians were Monsanto's media hacks and that his law granted them a monopoly, which is against most state constitutions. (They passed it anyway). I sent him a packet about aspartame, showing him that it is a deadly chemical poison and the dietitians push it and defend the manufacturer. He wrote back that he disagreed— and he also got hooked on Diet Coke."
One of the active ingredients in Diet
Coke is aspartame, better known as NutraSweet, which was approved for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration about 20 years ago, paving the way for the diet
soda boom. In the years since, a number of people have begun to attack NutraSweet, claiming that aspartame can be broken down into three amino acid components, aspartate, phenylalanine, and methanol. All three can be broken down into smaller entities, called metabolites, which can be toxic. For example, methanol, or wood alcohol, can spontaneously become formaldehyde,
while phenylalanine can decompose into diketopiperazine, which is a carcinogen.
In fact, conspiracy theorists credit NutraSweet for causing everything from multiple sclerosis to Gulf War syndrome, but say that "aspartame disease" is what hits most people. Symptoms of aspartame disease include headaches and dizziness … and about a billion other things. In February 1994, the Department of Heath released a list of 92 symptoms that occurred when people had an adverse reaction to NutraSweet, one of which was death.
The fine folks at AspartameKills.com
are at the forefront of this expose. While their Website explains the horrors of aspartame in greater detail, their essential view is that Donald Rumsfeld
and the NutraSweet people ignored the potential health risks to push approval of their wondrous sweetener. While some of what's on AspartameKills.com is notable and perhaps convincing, their tendency to dismiss government officials as Nazis makes them difficult to trust.
Now, according to a study by the NutraSweet folks,
"the safety of aspartame and its metabolic constituents was established through extensive toxicology studies in laboratory animals, using much greater doses than people could possibly consume." Of course, as the tobacco industry has shown us, corporations with billion dollar products have trouble accepting that their products may be unhealthy. Can't trust NutraSweet either.
Some independent studies appear to show that aspartame is safe, though. The fine folks at the University of Minnesota's school of public health studied the effects of long-term, hard-core aspartame use
in 108 volunteers. In the study, every day for 24 weeks, half of the subjects were given a placebo and the other half were given the same amount of aspartame found in 10 liters of Diet
Coke. The Minnesotan researchers discovered no differences between the two groups.
Then again, a story from Oxygen magazine
on the dangers of aspartame poisoning says that 90% of the independent studies conclude that it's dangerous. Conspiracy theorists note that the National Soft Drink Association initially opposed the approval of aspartame and say the government won't listen to their concerns.
All of this begs the question: Is it safe to be addicted to Diet
We have no idea. All we know is it tastes great with heroin.
From the very beginning, Diet
Coke inspired missionary-level zeal in drinkers. Tab's Bittersweet Legacy. Diet
Coke's path to glory was paved by the long-forgotten Tab, whose bitter, saccharine flavor first hit the market in 1963, and can be considered the gateway drug to diet
But in 1982, the year that Diet
Coke made its splash, Tab was the fifth-most popular soda in the U.S., pushing 237 million cases. Today, Tab flounders in saccharin hell, selling just 3.8 million cases in 2002, a 98% plunge in just 20 years. More of a niche throwback than anything else, Tab competes with Fresca for the geriatric market, clinging to a tenuous existence, popular in places like Memphis, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. (That said, Steven Brill is a fan of Tab, which tells you all you need to know.)
Coke rolled along, Tab was one of the bigger success stories in beverages, with a solid brand name and a small degree of cultural cache. As one of the few diet
beverages on the market, Tab had developed a loyal following among women, with its sloganista jingle: "Tab, Tab cola, for beautiful people." After Diet
Coke had launched, Coke tried to save Tab by touting its "crisp, sassy, not-too-sweet taste," which is about as inspirational as "it's not *that* bad, try it."
Still, Coke execs were excited about reviving Tab. "We believe Tab can become the No. 2 selling low-calorie cola in food stores, just behind Diet
Coke," said Sergio Zyman, senior vice president of marketing, to The Wall Street Journal
. "And we're not smoking
any weed when we say that."
Who knows what they were smoking?