John Jackson, 40, was pronounced dead on 2 May this year after consuming large quantities of Hero Energy Mints, which contain 80 mg of caffeine per piece - as much as a regular energy drink such as Red Bull.
Robin Balmain, the coroner who led the inquest into Jackson’s death, said the incident was an accident, but he voiced concerns about high-caffeine sweets.
Increase public awareness, says coroner
In a letter to the UK Department of Health, seen by ConfectioneryNews, he said Hero Energy Mints had provided little information about the levels of caffeine and the dangers of high caffeine consumption.
“The product seems to me to sit uncomfortably in a gap between medication and sweets, hence any person treating the product simply as sweets may be in danger,” he said.
“I acknowledge of course, that part of the answer is public awareness and I trust that the publicity that was given to this case may assist in that regard.”
He urged the Department of Health to take action to prevent future deaths.
Deceased’s family calls for ban
Jackson was found to have double the amount of caffeine in his bloodstream that can cause fatality and around 50 times the level that would be found normally in someone drinking tea and coffee. He was said to be a compulsive user of Hero Energy Mints.
Jackson’s stepdaughter has called for Hero’s product to be banned and said it was unbelievable that the goods were classed in the same category as extra strong mints.
The UK’s Food Standard’s Agency recommends that children should consume caffeine in moderation and pregnant women should not exceed 200 mg day – equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee.
Hero Energy Mints issues response
Hero Energy Ltd, the company behind the product, said in a statement offering condolences to Jackson’s family that it was an “isolated incident”.
“Here at Hero we understand the risks of caffeine consumption. As a result we are extremely vocal about these risks and highlight them at every available opportunity.”
“We will continue to strive for greater levels of consumer education, so customers can make informed decisions about all caffeinated products.”
The company’s site now recommends consuming only 1-2 mints per day/session and warns against consuming every day.
The EU Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) has warned that a dose of 5 mg caffeine per kilogram bodyweight (300 mg for a 60 kg person) could led to increased arousal, irritability, nervousness or anxiety.
Department of Health yet to receive letter
The Department of Health said that it had yet to receive coroner Balmain’s letter, which was addressed to the secretary of state and sent on Wednesday last week. A Department of Health spokesperson told this site that the issue was being led by the Food Standards Agency in England.
The department is required by law to respond to the coroner within 56 days of receiving the letter.
Under current UK labeling rules, which follow a 2002 EU directive, drinks containing over 150 mg of caffeine per liter must be labelled with the term “high caffeine content” and must be accompanied the amount of caffeine per 100 ml.
There are currently no labeling requirements in the UK for caffeine in foods, but an EU regulation set to enter force in December 2014 will require foods where caffeine is added for a physiological purposes to state: “Contains caffeine. Not recommended for children or pregnant women”.
Energy confectionery criticism
Energy confectionery has come under scrutiny in the past year. Wrigley announced the launch of Alert Energy Caffeine Gum gum in the US in March this year before pulling the 40 mg of caffeine per piece product two months later due to public concerns. See HERE.
The US Food and Drug Administration has suggested that 400 mg a day - about four or five cups of coffee - is a safe maximum amount, but it is conducting a policy review amid concerns about the effect on children and adolescents.