The federal Food and Drug Administration's announcement last Friday that it is considering regulatory action regarding caffeine powder should be welcomed. Nevertheless, such a step should not be necessary, and it wouldn't be if the powder weren't being abused.
That abuse requires a response.
An Ohio high school student's death in May raised troubling awareness of this powder so potent that even in such quantity as a teaspoon can have fatal consequences.
As an article in Sunday's Mirror reported, one-sixteenth of a teaspoon can contain the amount of caffeine in about two large cups of coffee.
Today's parents already have plenty to worry about in regard to their children getting involved with the wrong crowd and becoming users of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines or other dangerous substances. Now they have an additional cause for serious concern - about something that they might never before have accorded even the slightest contemplation.
After all, for most people, drinking caffeinated coffee is as much a routine as getting up in the morning.
Caffeine powder currently is sold as a dietary supplement; thus, it isn't subject to federal regulations like those governing certain caffeinated foods.
People who use the powder add it to drinks for a pick-me-up prior to workouts. Others use it as a means for helping to reduce weight gain, just like some people smoke to help curb their appetite.
The death of the Ohio high school student wasn't what spawned federal officials' concern about the powder in question. Health officials already had been investigating some products with added caffeine.
However, the death of the student, who had in his system 23 times as much caffeine as a typical coffee or soda drinker, has prompted a new urgency toward alerting exercise enthusiasts and others about the danger that exists with the powder's use.
The problem is that there's such a small difference between a safe quantity and a lethal one. Whatever federal action might be forthcoming will undoubtedly focus on that small difference.
Then there's the other problem: According to the FDA, the powder is almost impossible to measure accurately with common kitchen tools.
Until a week ago, caffeine powder hadn't been the subject of big newspaper headlines or major television news reports. Any attention it might have been given in central Pennsylvania was so insignificant that few people probably noticed.
Now the powder poses another significant challenge and worry for parents - and for adults who use it, the necessity for beefed-up caution as well.
It can be argued that those who have used such a common substance responsibly for however long
shouldn't be penalized because of an individual who either didn't know the dangers inherent with its use or chose to experiment with his bodily limits regarding it. However, that penalty or inconvenience could become real once the feds'
investigations are concluded.
Whatever the Ohio student's intentions on that day in May, his tragic choice and his apparent ignorance to danger seem destined to impact the freedom-to-purchase that responsible individuals have enjoyed up to now.