Wrigley Latest Mainstream Food Company to Add Caffeine to Product Enjoyed by Kids

While the Food and Drug Administration is investigating deaths linked to caffeinated energy drinks, the Center for Science in the Public Interest hopes the agency will be fully awakened by the addition of caffeine to more and more foods, including chewing gum. Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, launched today by Wrigley, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc., has 40 milligrams of caffeine per piece and 8 blister-packed pieces per box. The nonprofit watchdog group says that Wrigley's social-media heavy website is a sign that the company intends to market the product to young people.

In November, CSPI notified the FDA of its concern that manufacturers were caffeinating an explosion of foods, including Frito Lay's Cracker Jack'd snack, Kraft's MiO Energy water enhancer, and jelly beans, waffles, maple syrup, popcorn, and even beef jerky produced by smaller companies. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the consumption of caffeine and other stimulant substances in the diets of children and adolescents. Too much caffeine can cause anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and insomnia in just about anyone, according to CSPI. Large amounts of caffeine can cause rapid heartbeat and seizures that are severe enough to require emergency care. While the FDA has regulations governing caffeine in cola-type beverages, those regulations did not anticipate the widespread caffeination of the food supply.

"Could caffeinated macaroni and cheese or breakfast cereal be next?" asked CSPI executive director Michael F. 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 candies, nuts, snacks and other foods. And that's on top of the soda, coffee, tea, and energy drinks that are already widely consumed."

Wrigley is launching its gum today with a full-page ad in USA Today, in which the product is being advertised for free at 7-Eleven with the purchase of a Skinny Salted Caramel Mocha or other large hot—and presumably caffeinated—beverage.

The addition of caffeine to chewing gum as exam time approaches at schools across America represents something of a reversal for Wrigley, says CSPI. In 2005, the company issued a press release positioning gum as a study aid—and listing caffeine consumption alongside snacking and studying late at night as "choices which can negatively affect [students'] scholastic performance, as well as their overall health." Wrigley is known for aggressively seeking scientific justification for chewing gum; its Wrigley Science Institute promotes "emerging science around chewing gum for stress relief and to help with focus and concentration." Its web site invites scientists to "browse the current WSI funding opportunities" for chewing gum research (though the actual list of opportunities seems to be missing).

"It's a bad sign that Wrigley is marketing this new caffeinated gum to be consumed with, and not instead of, caffeinated beverages," Jacobson said. "Wrigley is basically inviting someone to have a serious adverse reaction."