There are more health concerns for people living today than can possibly be counted. Pollution, overpopulation, obesity and chemical exposure — each can strike a person the wrong way, causing serious medical conditions and even death. Perhaps no concern is more serious than that of cancer, at least to hear people talk about it. It seems everything could potentially cause cancer: sun exposure, old age, improper diet, family history, bad genes, environmental factors and technology use.

But what about that soda in your hand? Sure, it’s not great for you; it’s full of artificial sugars, mysterious preservatives and tooth-weakening acids. But could something in your Coke actually give you cancer?

Pictures provided by and Graphic by Ashley Kincaid
What is really in your drink? Collaborative Graphic by Ashley Kincaid. Images from and

Apparently the color could. Caramel coloring — specifically scientifically referred to asĀ 4-methylimidazole — was deemed dangerous enough to prompt action on the part of several health officials in California. Citing concerns (based on lab testing of rats) that the ammonium-based process used to create the color caused the substance to become carcinogenic, authorities threatened to apply a label indicating the cancerous potential of Coke and Pepsi products that contained the chemical coloring. To avoid this, the companies have agreed to change the way their factories formulate this caramel coloring — but only in the state of California.

Seeing as Radford University is a newly-rechristened Coke campus (and will be, for about the next decade or so), should we be concerned? Will we get cancer from drinking sodas in Dalton and the Bonnie?

Personally, I’m not worried. I don’t drink that much soda myself — not because I don’t like the taste of it, but because I know that it’s full of useless sugar and sketchy chemicals, as well as being entirely unhealthy. The idea that drinking soda could cause cancer isn’t that different, in my mind, from the idea that drinking soda could make me gain weight or damage my teeth.

Furthermore, I think that there are far more serious (and more conclusively proven) ways to get cancer. Family history is my main concern; my maternal grandmother died of breast cancer almost 20 years ago, and my own mother was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer during my sophomore year of high school. Aside from genetics, I’ve been using cellphones and laptops for years, and I eat a fair amount of red meat.

It’s not that I’m not concerned about the possibility of carcinogens in my Coke, I just have other, more pressing concerns. So until more studies and tests are run, I’ll keep going my merry way — that is, until the next big scare comes along.