WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of six senators – led by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) – urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to immediately ban the retail sale and marketing of pure caffeine. Brown and Blumenthal wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in support of a Citizen Petition – supported by the parents of two young men who died after ingesting too much powdered caffeine – urging the FDA to ban the sale of pure caffeine.
“As long as this dangerous substance remains legal and readily available online and in retail stores, consumers will be exposed to its unreasonable risks,” Brown said. “Powdered caffeine sold in bulk is markedly different than energy drinks, energy shots, or other retail products, such as pills, that contain caffeine. Because of the risk powdered caffeine poses to consumers, these products merit swift and significant action by FDA.”
“The FDA must do more to protect unsuspecting consumers from this dangerous and deadly substance – and that means ending the retail sale and marketing of pure caffeine,” Blumenthal said. “Pure caffeine is simply unsafe – unlike any other energy product, without any protection for unwary consumers. There is no question that caffeine is a powerful stimulant capable of producing serious physical reactions that can lead to death. In pure form, overdosing on caffeine is not only easy but virtually unavoidable. Powdered caffeine is a product with no redeeming value and has no place in retail stores and online.”
According to the FDA, a single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee – more than six times the recommended daily amount of caffeine for an adult. Although the FDA has alerted consumers to the dangers of powdered caffeine on its website, these products remain on the shelves and available online without any sort of regulation, warnings, or protections.
During a meeting in Washington, D.C. last month, Brown and Blumenthal met with the parents of Logan Stiner, a senior at Keystone High School in LaGrange who died just three days before his high school graduation. The parents of Wade Sweatt, a 24-year-old electrical engineer in Georgia who died of cardiac arrest after accidentally ingesting too much caffeine powder, and advocates from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – which organized the petition – also attended the meeting. In October 2014, Brown joined Stiner’s parents in calling on the FDA to ban the sale of this lethal substance. Brown and Blumenthal sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg on October 23.
The letter – also signed by U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) – is here and below.
January 22, 2015
The Honorable Margaret Hamburg
Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993
Dear Commissioner Hamburg:
We write in support of a recent Citizen Petition urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect the public’s health and welfare by banning the retail sale and marketing of pure and highly concentrated bulk caffeine powder products sold outside of pharmaceutical and food production purposes. We also endorse the petition’s request that FDA clarify serving sizes, potency, and risks of use on powdered caffeine product labels. This petition was filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and joined both by the families of two young men who lost their lives from accidental overdoses of caffeine powder and by lawmakers from Suffolk County, NY, the first jurisdiction in the country to enact restrictions on the sale of bulk caffeine powder.
On May 27, 2014, three days before his high school graduation and months before enrolling at the University of Toledo, 18-year-old Logan Stiner died from ingesting too much caffeine powder. One month later, Wade Sweatt, a 24-year-old electrical engineer in Georgia, died of cardiac arrest after accidentally ingesting too much caffeine powder. These young men had bright futures ahead of them, but they lost their lives because of poorly labeled, easily acquired bulk powder caffeine products unsuited for retail sale.
According to the FDA, a “single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee.” One teaspoon of pure caffeine is a lethal dose for a child, and ingesting between one to two teaspoons is likely to cause death in an adult. A typical 250 gram packet of caffeine powder costs less than $20 and contains a stunning equivalent of 2,500 cups of regular coffee—enough pure caffeine to cause the deaths of 50 people. Although the recommended dose of this product is a mere 1/16 of a teaspoon, most products on the market are not clearly labeled and fail to adequately inform consumers about the dangers of ingesting too much pure caffeine. In addition, it is nearly impossible for a typical consumer to safely and accurately measure 1/16 of a teaspoon of pure caffeine using common kitchen measuring tools. This is a product that should be confined to pharmaceutical and food production—not available in bulk as a retail product.
The FDA is already aware of the dangers of this product. Following Logan Stiner’s death, the FDA issued a consumer advisory warning about the dangers of powdered pure caffeine. In its advisory, the FDA recommended that consumers avoid these products and cautioned that very small amounts may cause accidental overdose. Just last month, the Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition posted on an FDA blog about the dangers of powdered pure caffeine.
Although the FDA’s consumer advisory and recent blog post are important first steps toward educating the public about the dangers of this product, these actions are far from an adequate response to this public health threat. As long as this dangerous substance remains legal and readily available online and in retail stores, consumers will be exposed to its unreasonable risks. Powdered caffeine sold in bulk is markedly different than energy drinks, energy shots, or other retail products, such as pills, that contain caffeine. Because of the risk powdered caffeine poses to consumers, these products merit swift and significant action by your agency.
We, the undersigned lawmakers, thus urge the FDA to respond to the families of Logan Stiner and Wade Sweatt, the people of Suffolk County, and the CSPI’s Citizen Petition by requiring clearer labeling on these deadly products and banning the retail sale and marketing of powdered caffeine to consumers in order to prevent future overdoses and needless deaths.