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EDITORIAL: Now, a war on caffeine

The federal nannies are ever on the prowl to eliminate pleasure

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Waking up to the morning newspaper and a cup of hot coffee is one of life's great pleasures, but it may soon be only a fondly remembered blast from the past. The newspaper is not going anywhere, but the nannies and the nancy men of the federal government want to take away our caffeine.

Bureaucrats of the Food and Drug Administration fret that America's long love affair with caffeine has become a dangerous obsession, so the agency last week threatened to ban its use as a food additive.

The FDA first approved the use of caffeine in foods in the 1950s. "Children and adolescents may be exposed to caffeine beyond those foods in which caffeine is naturally found and beyond anything FDA envisioned when it made the determination regarding caffeine in cola," says Deputy Commissioner Michael R. Taylor. The agency is taking "a fresh look" at caffeinated foods and beverages.

Some American prefer to get their wake-up call from the likes of jelly beans, sunflower seeds and potato chips to which caffeine has been added. The agency has targeted Wrigley's new Alert Energy Gum, which is to be marketed as a pepper-upper for those who need something to keep them awake.

The busybodies at the FDA say the small amount of caffeine in gum is "very disturbing," but they're not so foolish as to try to impose their wimpy ways on coffee. Not yet. Wrigley's caffeine gum has about 40 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to about half a cup of coffee or a large glass of chocolate milk. A Starbucks venti-size brewed coffee has 415 mg of caffeine — 10 times as much as a stick of gum. Wrigley says its energy gum is designed for chewers like long-haul truck drivers who need a little boost to stay alert on the road. It won't be marketed to children.

This isn't the first time the FDA has gone after caffeine. In 2010, the government forced a halt to production of alcoholic drinks containing caffeine, claiming the combination "may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations." This isn't about a health risk, but about accounts in the tabloid media of drunken melees "caused" by the caffeine-laced beverage. Ruffians and the peacefully rowdy can mix their own Red Bull with their favorite adult beverage already, any time they wish.

Makers of energy drinks such as Monster and Rockstar appear to be on the government's radar as well. The FDA is investigating whether these were responsible for the hospitalization and deaths of some teenagers, but did not inquire whether coffee played a role in these tragedies. Coffee-drinking among teenagers has exploded, and a Monster drink has about 50 mg of caffeine — an eighth of the caffeine in an oversized cup of coffee at Starbucks.

The FDA considered and rejected the idea of barring children from using caffeinated food and drink. "We have to be practical," says Mr. Taylor. "Enforcing age restrictions would be challenging." So, too, would be messing with Americans and their cup of joe. The FDA's decision to target only new products is evidence that safety isn't really the motivation. If nanny state bureaucrats succeed, it's only a matter of time before that morning coffee goes the way of incandescent light bulbs.

The Washington Times

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