Caffeinated chewing gum catches FDA's eye

(CNN) -- Wrigley's new caffeinated gum has caught the attention of the Food and Drug Administration, which says it will investigate the effects of added caffeine on children and teens.

Alert Energy Caffeine Gum was introduced this week by Mars Inc.'s Wrigley division. One piece contains 40 milligrams of caffeine, the same amount you'd get in a half a cup of coffee.

The gum comes in two flavors: mint and fruit. When it's chewed, the caffeine is released into your saliva. Some some gets swallowed as if you were drinking coffee or a soda; some is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the cheeks and under the tongue.

The only time the FDA has approved added caffeine in a food was in the 1950s for cola drinks, says Michael Taylor, the agency's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, in a statement Monday. The caffeinated gum is the latest to add caffeine, he says.

"Today, the environment has changed. 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," Taylor says.

"For that reason, FDA 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."

Wrigley is only the latest company to introduce caffeinated chewing gum; a number are already on the market.

According to the Alert Energy website, the gum is "an energy product for adults who consume caffeine for energy" and is not recommended for children or people sensitive to caffeine.

"Millions of Americans consume caffeine responsibly and in moderation as part of their daily routines," Wrigley says in a statement. "Alert Energy Caffeine Gum is for adults who are looking for foods with caffeine for energy. ... We are exceeding current regulatory requirements on labeling and disclosure because we believe consumers should be informed on the amount of caffeine they are consuming in their food and beverage products so they can make smart choices.

"Alert competes in the well-established energy category. It is developed for adults and will be marketed to consumers 25 and older," the company says. "As the FDA refines its approach to caffeine, we welcome the opportunity to work with them on this important topic."

In recent years, controversy has also swirled around energy drinks, which also contain caffeine. In November, the FDA began investigating 13 deaths preliminarily linked to the dietary supplement 5-Hour Energy.

The deaths had been reported to the FDA as "adverse events," which does not mean that the product is responsible for or that it contributed to any health issue.

The manufacturer, packer or distributor of a dietary supplement is required to notify the FDA of any adverse events linked to its product, according to agency spokeswoman Tamara Ward. That requirement does not apply to products sold as beverages or food.

In March, Monster Energy Corp. decided to begin marketing its products as beverages instead of dietary supplements and said it would include the caffeine content on each can of its energy drinks.

The FDA has received 20 adverse event reports about Monster products; five are linked to a death.

Again, these reports do not represent any conclusion by the FDA about whether the product is responsible for a health problem, Ward said in a March e-mail. "When important information is missing from a report, it is difficult for FDA to fully evaluate whether the product caused the adverse event or simply coincided with it."