Cheap soda has some trying to 'pop' addictive habit

Nick Stroman

Sometimes the cravings have been so bad, Carlos McDonald needs to get his fix two or three times a day.

McDonald said he has even resorted to calling friends and family to get rides to his dealer when he has to have a sip.

Like many Americans, McDonald is addicted to Polar Pops and is not looking for rehabilitation anytime soon.

Polar Pops are 32-ounce fountain drinks in Styrofoam containers sold at gas stations such as the BP in Morton.

The drinks can be filled to the brim with ice and caffeinated or decaf drinks and then refilled multiple times throughout the day — all for less than a buck each time.

In these days of consumer penny-pinching, Polar Pops are more popular than ever as people can dig spare change out of their cars to snag a refreshing drink.

Craig Testa, assistant manager of the Morton BP Fast & Fresh on North Morton Ave., said his station averages close to 100 Polar Pop sales a day.

“On Sunday, we sold 75 of them and that’s a slow day for us. We sold 140 one day last week and that’s pretty busy,” Testa said.

The price is right too for people pulling in for the tall refreshment.

The first cup is 69 cents, while refills cost 52 cents.

Testa said much of the station’s fountain drink business is based on repeat customers getting their caffeine fix throughout the work day.

“We have several people who work close to here who come in two or three times per day. It’s got to the point that if we have a lot of customers in here, we both know what the price is so they fill their cup, throw the money on the counter and leave,” Testa said.

Self-professed fountain Coke addict McDonald said it’s gotten to the point where his Polar Pop stops elicit a reaction much like the days of the classic TV show, “Cheers.”

“They know me by face and name now because I’ve come in so often over the years. I ask about their kids and they always ask how my family and I are doing. They always know I’m going to have a fountain Coke, too, so they’re usually ringing me up before I even reach the counter,” McDonald said.

Dr. Rob Richardson of Health Solutions in Morton said the type of dependency for caffeinated drinks usually starts in childhood.

“Soda itself is like a drug. You always want to go back to it and it creates a rush. The kola nut in there is a caffeine derivative and it creates a physical dependence for kids,” Richardson said.

Richardson said soda consumption is detrimental because it contains phosphoric acid, which leeches calcium from the bone and can lead to osteoporosis.

“I’m seeing high school kids in my office who have been pounding back the sodas for years. Then, they get involved with athletics or lifting weights and the bone has demineralized itself so it leads to compression fractures. You can’t fix it, but you can help it,” Richardson said.

Effects can also be seen well into adulthood, as Richardson said fractured hips or hip replacements take effect in a person’s 40s to 60s.

“Phosphoric acid also helps neutralize the acid in your stomach and nutritionally affects digestion and the vitamins you are eating. Also not a positive,” Richardson added.

For the multiple visitors to the fountain drink station, Richardson said they are more likely to become diabetic, gain weight and age faster.

“It’s medically proven that anything with heavy amounts of sugar will lead you to age faster. The synthetic sweeteners can even mimic Parkinson’s Disease, epileptic seizures or lead to tumors and emotional disorders,” Richardson said.

“There are so many things you can rattle off with caffeine consumption effects, too. Insomnia, high blood pressure, vitamin depletion, birth defects,” the doctor added.

McDonald admits he has trouble sleeping most nights and has a history of high blood pressure.

He also realizes his combination of caffeine and smoking might be the cause of the health troubles.

“I’ve tried to cut back on both now. I used to have to have Coke right when I woke up and then again mid-afternoon and always right before bed. It’s getting better,” McDonald said.

“I still go to the gas station every day, but now sometimes I mix it up and get Sprite instead when I think I can do without the caffeine. That’s probably not much better is it?” McDonald asked.