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Day after victory, Wichita fluoridation opponents vow to work against fluoridation nationally

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, at 6:25 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at 6:53 a.m.


Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Mark S. Gietzen's name.

The day after Wichitans decided to keep their water unfluoridated, the winning side said it would now work to reduce fluoridation in the rest of the state and the country.

While some contend that the vote against fluoridation Tuesday makes Wichita seem backward in the face of the three-fourths of the country that fluoridates its water, “this really is a national movement that Wichita is part of,” Jonathan Hall of Wichitans Against Fluoridation said Wednesday. “We’re part of the upcoming wave of change.”

The final vote on fluoridation broke 60 percent against and 40 percent in favor – 74,788 to 50,890.

“It wasn’t nearly as close as we thought it would be,” said Wichita pediatrician Larry Hund, who was one of the main faces of the pro-fluoridation side.

A map of how the 171 precincts in Wichita voted on the issue showed that south Wichita, in general, had a higher concentration of nay votes than the rest of the city, and east Wichita had more precincts that voted solidly in favor of fluoridation. There also were pockets of high favorability on the northwest edge of Wichita precincts, and pockets of solid resistance just west of downtown and in north and northeast Wichita.

Of the precincts with more than 500 votes, the one with the most lopsided vote against fluoride was No. 422, between MacArthur Road and 47th Street South and between Seneca and Broadway in south Wichita. The vote count there was 442-133 against fluoridation.

The precinct with the most lopsided vote for fluoridation was No. 228, between 21st and 13th streets and roughly 127th and 143rd streets in east Wichita. The vote there was 699-405 in favor of fluoridation.

People on both sides of the issue said that they made their case known more in some areas of the city than in others.

Hund said that his offices are in the northeast and northwest part of Wichita, and “we passed along a lot of information” advancing fluoridation.

“We were very educating in our part of town. We have 14,000 patients; we talked to a lot of parents and tried to do a lot of education. I wish we could have done more education.” On the other hand, he said, he has employees who live in the south part of town who talked about the high number of “no” signs that they saw there.

“It’s easier to scare people than to teach them about the science involved,” Hund said. He said that the claim that fluoride is toxic played more to emotion than to science, and that people who were able to understand the science advocated fluoride.

Hund said that fluoridation advocates wanted to run a full-page ad in the newspaper rebutting anti-fluoride claims near the end of the campaign, but they didn’t have the money for it. Both sides said that the other side had more money to spend on the campaign.

“Our campaign was so underfunded and so disorganized,” said Mark S. Gietzen, president of the Kansas Republican Assembly, which worked with anti-fluoridation groups. “ … If we’d been organized we’d have had an 80-20 (percent) win. Some areas did not get their handouts. ...

“We wanted to reach the entire city, and we were not able to do that.”

Polls showed that “some of the minority groups were particularly receptive to our message,” Hall of Wichitans Against Fluoridation said. “We did some Spanish-language radio ads and material and distributed most of that downtown and in northern parts of the city, and targeted some of the African-American community, in the northeast part of town, around WSU, and several African-American churches on Sunday morning.”

Both Gietzen and Hall said that the anti-fluoride forces would not stop their work with this vote.

“We’re definitely going to take this statewide; we’re not going to quit,” Gietzen said. He said plans would be announced soon, and that one effort would perhaps be to work toward a state recommendation against fluoridation while still allowing communities to decide for themselves whether they wanted it.

“Since I am connected to the National Federation of Republican Assemblies … I’m going to try to make fluoride one of our core issues,” Gietzen said. He likened fluoride to lead and asbestos: “Things that we thought were right back then maybe were not such a good idea after all. That’s where we are with fluoride.”

Hall added that anti-fluoride forces here also want to help in Portland, Ore., if the issue goes to a public vote there.

Hund said he doesn’t think the anti-fluoride side realizes what the results of the Wichita vote will be.

“We see a lot of children with really bad teeth, and parents who don’t have insurance,” Hund said. “This will affect this generation and the next generations until we finally have the benefits” of fluoridation, he said.

Hund said he didn’t expect the issue to be brought up again anytime soon, but eventually.

“I think as time goes on we will become a strange little city,” Hund said.

Contributing: Hurst Laviana of The Eagle

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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