Friday, January 17, 2014

Not Regulated Enough Already?

I recently watched the latest installment of Dr. Robert Lustig’s war to regulate sugars (he calls it something else) in the American diet.  Dr. Lusting is a celebrated physician in the regulatory world, and I suppose he knows his way around a human body as well as any government licensed physician.

His chat was not so much about physiology as it was about public policy. It seemed to be directed at scaring the fat-pants off of everybody listening in order to forward his public policy view that sugars are not regulated enough. He invoked that Supersize Me documentary, where a fellow intentionally ate too much at McDonald’s and fell ill from a month-long binge.

However, something more subtle appeared to be going on. In his chain of evidence and persuasion, he mentioned something curious: “Societal intervention says that your abuse of a substance has to affect me in a negative way for us to regulate it. For instance, nobody is saying we should regulate caffeine. Your use of caffeine does not affect me.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth.  Caffeine is already heavily regulated, even though your use of it does not affect me.  Bonus, there are all sorts of people in power who think it is addictive.

The amount in soft drinks has been strictly regulated decades. The FDA literally has a book on it. This has also been going in the United Kingdom for quite some time too. Next year the regulations in the UK become more intense. The amount of caffeine in each serving of a non-coffee or tea based drink is already strictly regulated as well.

It might seem a bit harsh to criticize Dr. Lustig for being unaware of this particular fact, since many people are unaware of caffeine regulations. Then again, it is hard to find anything in America that is unregulated. Most people remain unaware of this fact, though as far back as a 1990s college marketing class, we were informed that there were some 40,000 regulations on a hamburger. Lustig, however, is selling a program of increased regulation. He could at least be expected to be aware of the current regulatory climate.

Returning to caffeine, the federal government has been pressing its flight crewmembers to stick to “3 to 4 cups of coffee” or equivalent limit for decades. A US Navy version: “Caffeine ― Excessive caffeine from coffee, tea, cola, etc., can cause excitability, sleeplessness, loss of concentration, decreased awareness, and dehydration. Caffeine intake should be limited to not more than 450 mg per day, or 3 or 5 cups of coffee.” A US Army Aeromedical manual gave similar advice, and cautioned: “Caffeine is also addictive, and continued use builds tolerance. Over time, people must ingest increasing amounts of caffeine to obtain the same physiological and behavioral effects.”

In 1985, during US Army flight school, our instructor mentioned that high levels of caffeine could be used as a pilot error factor in an accident investigation. However, I never once heard even the hint of that happening in reality.

Which brings me back to Dr. Lustig’s talk. His contention rested on the notion that “nobody” was talking about caffeine because it does not have a negative effect on society. Well, the federal government has already bought into the notion that it is addictive, correctly or not. Also, his criteria for a negative effect on society is suspect; literally anything can qualify: “If you smoke or drink or take drugs, that is bad for me, because of secondhand smoke, car accidents, declining housing prices when your house turns into a coke den. Also work productivity and absenteeism.”  Shouldn't the employer be the final arbiter of what level of productivity and absenteeism he will tolerate, no matter what the cause?

On that secondhand smoke nonsense, I direct you to a couple of physicians and a community college dropout with some staggering findings via a long term study on secondhand smoke.  Conclusion: No correlation in lung cancer due to secondhand smoke (Journal of the National Cancer Institute direct link is behind a paywall).

More to the point, the FDA is already talking about expanding its regulation of caffeine: FDA to Investigate 
Added Caffeine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that, in response to a trend in which caffeine is being added to a growing number of products, the agency will investigate the safety of caffeine in food products, particularly its effects on children and adolescents. 
Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA, answers questions about his concerns and possible FDA actions.
One of their top items for scrutiny: waffles.

The article goes on to outline how the FDA plans on studying how to regulate jelly beans, waffles, gum, water, syrup, and other products that might contain caffeine―under the guise that it is about children’s health. The same article notes that since 2010 the FDA has forced the withdraw of caffeinated alcoholic beverages from the market. The latter was widely publicized in the Four Loko saga , three years ago.

Yet, we still have physicians preaching that caffeine is not regulated in the United States. The reality is, it is nearly impossible to find any product that is not regulated in the United States, and those who love a good regulation don’t mind adding more to the mix.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

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