Monday, August 20, 2007

17-year old overdoses on caffeine -- where's the outrage?

The BBC reports on the overdose on caffeine that sent 17-year old Jasmine Willis to the hospital last week in County Durham, England. She drank 7 double espressos.

"I was burning up and hyperventilating.

"I was having palpitations, my heart was beating so fast and I thought I was going into shock," she said.

She said that she was still experiencing side effects days later.

Fortunately Jasmine survived. But if she had perished, should that tragedy have warranted changing the law regarding caffeine?

"If we can save just one child from this terrifying experience, this one law would be worth it!" Isn't that the standard for deciding whether to make it a felony to recklessly leave caffeine products in the proximity of persons underage?

Well, OF COURSE NOT. The "save just one life" rationale is a powerful emotional but intellectually bogus argument. It arises only after an activity has been stripped of normality. Even as global levels of "caffeinization"grow, we are nowhere near a reaction that will demonize use of caffeine.

But other activities have been moved into that category. Cigarette smoking is probably the best example of this transformation. You can still find seats on airplanes with ashtrays built into the armrests. Only a few decades ago, children made ashtrays in their first pottery classes. Smoking was permissible in college classrooms. It is hard for Americans to recall the ubiquity of cigarette smoking only 40 years ago.

Noting this transformation is not a defense of cigarette smoking. I do not like the smell of tobacco smoke, and I consider smoking indoors in the presence of unconsenting others a grave breach of etiquette. It is the process of this profound social change that I am noting. Thus we move the behavior from being unobjectionable to objectionable, laying the groundwork for criminalization.

In California, for example, not only is it a misdemeanor to distribute cigarettes to a person under 18, it is illegal to distribute cigarettes other than in sealed packages of 20. It is illegal to rent videos that include advertisements for cigarettes (or alcohol products).

And yet, caffeine products are marketed without being mentioned on ingredient labels, without warning labels that caffeine is addictive or that consumption of caffeine carries a risk of overdose.

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Douglas Andrew Willinger said...

Contrast all of this with the insane laws and attitudes about cocaine- a safer drug actually when used in the contexts that we accept for caffeine and nicotine (aka dilute form as Coca leaf based products).

Anyone supporting the status quo should be forced to snort ground up No Doz caffeine tablets, or better yet to smoke them.

devlin said...

like anything, caffeine addiction is a problem, for more people than one might think...