Our nation’s diet scolds are running out of reasons to pick on soda pop. Researchers at Virginia Tech’s Center for Food and Nutritional Policy (CFNP) have found that calcium intake among adolescents does not appear to be linked to soft drink consumption. CFNP director Maureen Storey explains: “This is most likely because milk and soft drinks are not close dietary substitutes.” In other words, when kids drink soda it doesn’t mean they’re drinking less milk. Does this finding mean the food police will stop playing “kick the can” with soft drinks? Not likely. They view soda as a Trojan horse that will gain them access to the kingdom of food taxes and other needless regulations.

Activist arguments against soda just don’t hold water. For instance, they claim soda makes kids fat; but the Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy found no link between soda consumption and obesity in children. And a can of soda contains fewer calories than an identical serving of most fruit juices.

Determined to fly in the face of facts, these soda-bashers-gone-wild want to turn their nanny-state dreams into our soda tax nightmare:

Harold Goldstein, director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, has referred to soda bans in schools as “just the entry point to address the bigger issues.” Goldstein’s group was the primary sponsor of a bill to tax soda in California.

target=_blank>Kelly Brownell, father of the “fat tax,” has advocated charging a “penny or two tax on soft drinks.” Brownell makes zero effort to hide the insidious nature of his proposal, noting that a small tax “would mostly go unnoticed by the public.” Brownell has also written that “Twinkie taxes” are specifically designed to price certain foods out of reach.

Nutrition nag Marion Nestle has called for taxes on soft drinks and has also ominously declared that “soda comes first” in the battle to regulate what we eat and drink.

Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has declared that “soda makes the most sense to tax” and even compared a levy on pop to cigarette taxes. CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson recently called for picking “billions of dollars a year” from Americans’ pockets through taxes on sugar and other foods he doesn’t like. CSPI first demonized soda with its “Liquid Candy” report, which overstated soda consumption by 100 percent.

John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf has threatened to sue the Seattle School Board over their use of soft-drink vending machines to raise money for (gasp!) athletic programs and physical education. He even threatened to target individual school board members.

Though their rhetoric is short on fact, these fizzy agitators are having an effect in some state legislatures. Maine has used taxpayer funds to promote an “Enough is Enough” advertising campaign, advising citizens to steer clear of soft drinks and “cut the crap.” The Texas Department of Health has a CSPI-inspired campaign called “Soda Busters.” Washington, Nebraska, and California have all flirted with slapping new taxes on carbonated beverages.

This is just the beginning. Food activists and other social engineers see soda pop as a “wedge issue.” They aim to use a victory in the soda wars — and the public obesity debate — to position other foods and beverages for new government regulations and restrictions. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.