Alert Energy gum ad that ran in newspapers
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Wrigley’s launched a caffeinated gum this week called Alert Energy, adding to the numerous foods and beverages now containing added caffeine for “energy”. The US Food and Drug Administration has finally decided to investigate whether all these new caffeinated foods are causing any health hazards.

The agency is “is taking a fresh look at the potential impact that the totality of new and easy sources of caffeine may have on the health of children and adolescents, and if necessary, will take appropriate action,” Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner, said in a statement. “The only time that the FDA explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food was for cola and that was in the 1950s.”

Although Alert Energy wasn’t mentioned by name, the FDA cited caffeinated gum as the reason for its investigation.

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It’s odd, in my opinion, the FDA decided to speak up only now. The agency declined to protest when caffeinated Cracker Jacks hit the market last November or when caffeine was added to jelly beans, Crystal light, beef jerky, or breakfast cereal.

But FDA spokesperson Shelly Burgess emphasized to me that the agency isn’t singling out Wrigley’s; the agency is going to review any and all products with added caffeine, to see how consumers—especially kids—use them in the real world.

Several lawsuits were filed against the manufacturers of highly caffeinated energy drinks after several teens died after drinking them.

Each piece of Wrigley’s new gum has 40 milligrams of caffeine—equivalent to the amount in one-half cup of coffee—and there are eight pieces per blister-pack. The Wrigley website said the gum “is an energy product for adults who consume caffeine for energy.”

In a full-page ad in national newspapers, Wrigley offered a free pack of Alert Energy to anyone who purchased a Skinny Salted Caramel Mocha or other large hot—and presumably caffeinated --beverage at their local 7-Eleven store. Wrigley did not respond to a request for comment on the FDA’s investigation.

Combining various caffeinated products is what most concerns the FDA, as well as physician groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has taken a strong position against caffeinated foods, beverages, and supplements. People can potentially overdose on caffeine if they’re already having several cups of coffee a day along with caffeinated energy drinks, gum, and candy.

Too much caffeine can lead to increased blood pressure, irregular heart beat, and anxiety; in rare cases, excess caffeine has been linked to strokes, heart attacks, and deaths. Children may be particularly vulnerable to caffeine’s effects, and the pediatrics group noted that high amounts have been “linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.”