File this under “more products Americans don’t really need”: Wrigley has introduced a new caffeinated chewing gum. And just when you thought Lisa over in accounting couldn’t get any more jittery and irritable…
Touted as “the right energy, right now,” Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, which is rolling out nationwide this week, promises the equivalent buzz of a half-cup of coffee per piece. An ad in USA Today offers a free pack at 7-Eleven with the purchase of one of the C-store’s Skinny Salted Caramel Mochas—double the buzz!
“It’s a bad sign that Wrigley is marketing this new caffeinated gum to be consumed with, and not instead of, caffeinated beverages,” says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Wrigley is basically inviting someone to have a serious adverse reaction.”
Indeed, the public health advocacy group isn’t the only one concerned about the rush by the food and beverage industry to add more buzz to their products (and we’re not talking about publicity).
There are now Cracker Jacks with caffeine, a “water enhancer” marketed by Kraft with caffeine, even caffeinated “extreme sports beans” made by Jelly Belly. No doubt the skyrocketing success of energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull, as well as hyper-caffeinated supplements like 5-Hour Energy, has gotten the attention of the food and beverage industry, which now hopes to capitalize on Americans’ seemingly inexhaustible need to be, well, inexhaustible.
“Could caffeinated macaroni and cheese or breakfast cereal be next?” asks Jacobson. “One serving of any of these foods isn’t likely to harm anyone. The concern is that it will be increasingly easy to consume caffeine throughout the day, sometimes unwittingly, as companies add caffeine to candy, nuts, snacks and other foods. And that’s on top of the soda, coffee, tea and energy drinks that are already widely consumed.”
(Oh, Jacobson—you know that if jacked-up Frosted Flakes wasn’t already in R&D at Kellogg’s, it is now.)
But Wrigley may have been all too eager to jump on the caffeine bandwagon. In March, a group of 18 prominent doctors, researchers and public health experts sent a letter to Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, summarizing current research that suggests ingesting too much caffeine can have serious health consequences, particularly among adolescents and young adults, to whom products like energy drinks are heavily marketed. For example, emergency room visits related to energy drink consumption increased tenfold from 2005 to 2009, and doubled between 2007 and 2011, from 10,068 to 20,783.
“Given the evidence summarized [here], we conclude that there is neither sufficient evidence of safety nor a consensus of scientific opinion to conclude that the high levels of added caffeine in energy drinks are safe under the conditions of their intended use, as required by the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) standards for food additives,” the letter states.
Whether that goes for chewing gum too remains to be seen.
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Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council. He writes about food, sustainability and the environment.