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Marketing Drugs Via Soda Pop and Candy


A couple of years ago I wrote an article about an "energy" drink called Cocaine. Since that time, the FDA went after the drink's manufacturer, Redux Beverages, telling them their claims of the drink having medicinal benefits and labeling for the drink didn't meet federal standards. That pulled Cocaine from store shelves for some time, but now Redux is ready to reintroduce their concoction with new labeling on the cans.


The problem is their "original" idea of making a food product sound like forbidden fruit is becoming more and more commonplace and presents yet another disturbing trend for parents to be aware of.


The FDA calls these products "Street Drug Alternatives" and the administration attempts to police the ever-expanding marketplace. But new items are appearing on store shelves faster than the food cops can keep up. Just a few days ago in late February 2008, media outlets reported on yet another drink product called "Blow" that was being sold as a white powder -- complete with a credit card looking piece of plastic and a mirror.


On January 31, 2008 another letter was sent from the FDA to the manufacturer of Blow, explaining how their product was not a food, but instead a drug because it was intended to "affect the structure or function of the body." While the FDA told the company they had fifteen days to comply or pull their products, they still appear to be selling them from their corporate web site -- which depends heavily on drug culture images and naked women to sell their wares. (I won't share the address here and allow them to gain extra search engine positioning.)


Both of these drinks are relatively harmless to adults when compared to the drug they are mimicking, yet for children and those sensitive to stimulants, their extremely high levels of caffeine are a concern. Blow and Cocaine contain 240 and 280 milligrams of caffeine respectively. An average cup of coffee clocks in at around 130 milligrams while a cup of tea is about 50 milligrams.


Of course, the other issue at hand has nothing to do with what the product is but instead what it represents. Kids can buy other drinks cheaper and more readily than these two brands, but the edgy names (both use a design in their logo that looks like a white powder) and look of the product is certain to appeal to those drawn toward the drug culture.


By corporate America standards, these two renegade companies are small players, but even big corporations are getting drawn into using cool drug images to sell their items. The Hershey Company was in the news in late 2007 about their Ice Breakers Pacs -- small dissolvable pouches with a sweetened powder inside. In an ABC News report, Hershey spokesman Kirk Saville claims the candy -- which is obviously designed to mimic "nickel" pouches of drugs -- "is not intended to simulate anything."


Ironically, The Hershey Co. may have got the idea from a bizarre earlier lawsuit they launched against a California marijuana dealer who was selling pot in packages labeled with knockoffs of Hershey products.


Our marketplace is fast becoming a minefield for young people. For years we have put up with products that sexualize our children at early ages. Then we began convincing them they need cell phones and coffee. Now they are being pushed to enter into the pervasive drug culture that is glorified in media and by celebrities.


Drugs, soda or candy -- all these vendors are pushing to our kids and moving them in the wrong direction.


Rod Gustafson

Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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