A riddle:

What malicious vice has been actively marketed at children despite its numerous and proven detrimental effects upon one’s health?

If you thought about Joe Camel there, think again. Try those high-flying, living-on-the-edge thrill-seekers in the Mountain Dew commercials.

Yeah, I’m talking about soda. For some reason, America has chosen to single out a few vices, like smoking cigarettes, and viciously attack the users, while completely ignoring many other problematic habits. Like drinking soda.

In 2000, soda made up more than a quarter of all drinks consumed in America. A third of teenage boys consume at least three cans of soda a day. Mmmm, void of nutrition and rich in sugar and caffeine. Just what the doctor ordered. Kevorkian, maybe.

Like hummingbirds who slurp sticky, sweet and sugary nectars to fuel their incessant wing-fluttering, kids suck down their caffeinated sodas and fuel what? Maybe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or at the very least some wicked cases of the jitters.

I’m not even going to try to follow through on that assertion, but it’s worth a passing thought.

So is this: Caffeine is a physically addictive substance. All of you coffee drinkers know this from experience if you’ve ever tried to avoid caffeine for a day or two. It has withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, irritability and, in some cases, nausea. Quitting is hard.

So if people suffer from withdrawal symptoms, that means that the chemistry of their brains is being thrown off balance. Know what? Nobody has tried to figure out what effect this is having on kids’ developing brains. Nobody used to ask those questions about smoking, either. Not quitting could be harder.

Another query: Did some habitual coffee drinkers possibly begin their romance with this allegedly benign upper with soda? Could it be, gasp, a gateway beverage?

I really don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it seems like there’s a pretty good setup to clinch a nice market for Starbucks. Coca-Cola probably isn’t scheming with them, but they certainly take advantage of each other’s markets pretty well. Once you’re too old for pop, you get coffee to feed your need. At least there are fewer calories. Yay, coffee.

A study in 1999 found that 61 percent of Americans were overweight and 26 percent were obese, or damn overweight.

A team of researchers from Harvard did a study following a sampling of 12-year-olds for 19 months and found that the ones who drank soft drinks regularly were more likely to be overweight. Obesity has been named as the second-highest cause of preventable deaths in the nation, right behind our dear friend smoking. The annual health care costs of treating obese Americans were recently estimated at $238 billion. Boo, soda.

Can you even believe that there’s more? Phosphorous, an ingredient found in most soda pops, has been shown in animal studies to deplete bones of calcium. In another study, Harvard researchers found a correlation between soda consumption and bone fractures in 14-year-old girls.

And prices are skyrocketing at vending machines. I’ve seen them charging $1.50 for a 20-ounce bottle of soda. Two of those a day for a whole year would add up to just short of $1,100. I’d throw the exact figure there, but round ones are easier to burn into your mind and more exciting. Got money to drink?

At least cigarettes have an excuse for being so damnably expensive: The government jacks up taxes on them to encourage Americans to quit. And they’re doing it again, I hear. An unofficial source, e.g. some guy at International, told me that the price will be jumping to $7 a pack. That’s just mean. Encourage good health: Jack up taxes on soda instead next time.

Truth: the anti-soda.

Daily Nexus assistant Opinion editor Cory Anthony doesn’t really think soda is the root of all evil but wishes people wouldn’t claim that cigarettes are. College students are poor enough without the morality tax.