An energy drink said by its makers to be 3.5 times stronger than market leader Red Bull is gaining attention for its provocative brand name — Cocaine — and the manner in which it is being marketed as a dietary supplement and a 'legal alternative' to that banned narcotic. However, food industry sources have questioned its legality and predicted its imminent prohibition.
A can of Cocaine contains the caffeine equivalent of 3.5 cups of coffee — 350mg — as well as dextrose, guarana, the amino acid taurine and a vitamin cocktail, which combine to give a 'five hour buzz' without a 'crash.'
"This is an unwelcome development," said Loren Israelsen, president of LDI Group consultancy in Utah. "It brings disrepute to DSHEA because it's labelled as a supplement. Not that we should get moralistic, but should we be encouraging any kid to think about this?"
Cocaine has been launched in select markets such as Los Angeles and New York City and is squarely aimed at young revellers interested in the drink's energy-boosting claims.
The Cocaine website references drug culture terminology, and suggests alcoholic cocktails such as 'Cocaine Snort' and 'Cocaine Blast,' and the effects of the product are described in a druglike manner. An ingredient has even been added to the drink to mimic the throat-numbing sensation cocaine use can cause.
Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific affairs at the Washington, DC-based Natural Products Association, said he hoped the Food and Drug Administration "would act extremely quickly to remove this product from the market."
"There are a wide variety of legal issues with this product — none more so than the name," he told FF&N. "You can't name a food product after an illegal drug, for a start. The dosage levels of some of the ingredients may also raise regulator eyebrows, as will their marketing.
"This is the kind of product that gives the whole industry a bad name and attracts criticism to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act."
Israelsen noted that the FDA held a mid-October public hearing to discuss where the line should be between supplements, foods and beverages. One issue likely to be discussed was size and delivery system of supplements — that is, whether a 750ml bottle of a drink should be called a supplement.
"The other issue is this," said Israelsen, "I do not believe it bodes well for DSHEA or beverages labelled as supplements. Do companies believe they can be edgier in their marketing if they call it a supplement? Put these two things back to back, and we ought to say that we choose to draw a line as an industry.
"And if the government throws its hands in the air and says it doesn't know how it's illegal, we should at least speak out against it and encourage retailers not to sell it, and be on record against it."