Wrigley Chewing Gum Now Has Caffeine, Watchdog Calls For Action
April 30, 2013

Wrigley Chewing Gum Now Has Caffeine, Watchdog Calls For Action

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Caffeine has been an ingredient of controversy as of late, with the FDA probing the cause of several deaths over the past few years linked to the stimulant. Among the investigations is that of energy drink maker Monster Beverage Co., which is being blamed for the death of a 14-year-old Maryland girl in 2011, who purportedly got a lethal dose of caffeine after consuming Monster Energy drinks.

While the FDA continues its investigations into caffeinated drinks, another group is taking a swing at a much different caffeinated product. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has called out Wrigley for its latest addition to the chewing gum market: Alert Energy Caffeine Gum. Each stick of the chewing gum has 40 milligrams of caffeine and each pack comes stacked with 8 pieces.

CSPI said it is taking aim at the gum maker for one sole reason: its market toward adolescents. According to a statement from the watchdog, “Wrigley's social-media heavy website is a sign that the company intends to market the product to young people.”

The nonprofit group has been keeping a sharp eye not just on Wrigley, but also on a host of other food makers that have been joining the caffeine explosion. In November, CSPI notified the FDA over the concern companies such as Frito Lay and Kraft were loading up products with caffeine. It also showed concern for a host of other foods — including waffles, maple syrup, popcorn, beef jerky and even jelly beans — that are coming jam-packed with caffeine, many of which are marketed to adolescents.

However, Wrigley is taking a defensive stand when it comes to the marketing of its Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, stating the gum is intended for adult use only.

Denise M. Young, a spokeswoman for Wrigley, said the gum is for "adults who are looking for foods with caffeine for energy.” She added the amount of caffeine found in one stick of gum is equivalent to that of a half-cup of coffee. She said the company will work with the FDA.

"Millions of Americans consume caffeine responsibly and in moderation as part of their daily routines," Young said.

The FDA´s deputy commissioner of foods, Michael Taylor, said on Monday the last and only time the FDA explicitly approved the use of caffeine in a food or drink was in the 1950s when colas began using the stimulant. He said the current explosion in the popularity of caffeinated foods and drinks is “beyond anything FDA envisioned."

"It is disturbing," Taylor told The Associated Press (AP). "We're concerned about whether they have been adequately evaluated."

Taylor said the FDA plans to look more closely at the potential impact these caffeinated products will have on children´s health and will put its foot down if necessary. He added FDA officials have been discussing the issue with several large food companies that have already begun venturing into caffeinated waters, including Mars Co., the owner of Wrigley.

When it comes to caffeine and other stimulants, such as taurine, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages consumption for children and adolescents. Caffeine in higher doses can cause rapid heartbeat and seizures severe enough to require emergency intervention.

With more and more companies making the switch to caffeinated food and drink, it is going to become easier for people to consume caffeine throughout the day and much easier for children and adolescents to also get it.

CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson noted just “one serving of any of these foods isn't likely to harm anyone.” However, he noted, the big concern is there will be enough products out there that at any time during the day, one could be eating several different foods that may all contain caffeine.

Critics say it isn´t enough for companies to say they are marketing their caffeinated products only to adults when the stimulant is being added to foods like candy, chips and other snack foods that are typically eaten by children.

Still, Wrigley launched its caffeine gum on Monday with a full-page ad in USA Today. The advertisement stated the gum was being handed out for free at 7-Eleven stores when a customer purchased a large hot beverage.

One of the biggest issues CSPI is taking with the caffeine gum is it is being marketed close to exam time in schools across the country. The group said this is a reversal for Wrigley, which in the past had a much different view on caffeine.

In 2005, Wrigley issued a press release on the use of gum and caffeine. Wrigley promoted gum as a beneficial study aid but said caffeine consumption during late night studying can “negatively affect [students'] scholastic performance, as well as their overall health."

The gum maker has been known to aggressively fight for scientific justification for chewing gum. The company promotes the idea gum is good for stress relief and to help with “focus and concentration.”

But Jacobson noted it is a “bad sign that Wrigley is marketing this new caffeinated gum to be consumed with, and not instead of, caffeinated beverages.” He added the company is “basically inviting someone to have a serious adverse reaction."