AWAKE Chocolate: Any Child Can Buy One?

It isn’t just about colas, coffee, or energy drinks anymore. Now there are more products appearing with added caffeine, the world’s most consumed pharmacologically active stimulant.

Last week I found this display of AWAKE Chocolate bars at my friendly neighbourhood Shoppers Drug Mart.

AWAKE Chocolate AWAKE Chocolate contains 101 mg of caffeine, promoted as having the same “whack” as a regular cup of coffee or 250 mL of energy drink. The caffeine is identified as a “medicinal ingredient” and the label states in tiny print that AWAKE “helps temporarily to relieve fatigue, to promote mental awareness, and to enhance cognitive and motor performance.”

The brainchild of three former consumer-packaged-goods marketers, AWAKE Chocolate was launched last August and is available in several major drug stores and grocery chains across Canada. According to the AWAKE Facebook page, the creators will be looking for a cash infusion for their business on an upcoming episode of Dragon’s Den set to air on February 10, 2013 on CBC at 8 p.m. The marketing campaign is aimed at 18-25 year olds and includes bus tour events to colleges and universities and a social media blitz.

But wait a minute…

The product is called AWAKE. Yet it states on the label, in tiny micro-type, that somehow passed regulatory clearance: “This product is not intended as a substitute for sleep.” Um…what?

Well, maybe there are many levels of consciousness between asleep and awake, but certainly none that might qualify as states of enhanced cognitive and motor performance. To further illustrate this main message logic gap, consider the Not AWAKE photo contest. University and college students are encouraged to post pictures of their hapless colleagues who fall asleep studying. The key message is that they should have eaten AWAKE Chocolate to avoid sleeping.

Funny? Perhaps. Or maybe just a bit creepy. But AWAKE certainly understands their target market, as more young adults are swapping soda for the super buzz of coffee, with recent stats showing about 40% of young adults drinking coffee in 2012, up from 25% a decade earlier.

Sleep-deprived students might be far better off taking a nap rather than ingesting caffeine if they truly want to improve their perceptual learning and memory consolidation as found in this study from the Laboratory of Sleep and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of California. Another study showed that a nap can be as good as a full night’s sleep for learning a perceptual task, handy knowledge if a student needs to manage the effects of an occasional all-nighter cramming for an exam.

Unfortunately, even though naps and proper sleep provide many health benefits and improved productivity, we live in a society that values 24 x 7 x 365 and any downtime is perceived as a sign of weakness. Young adults are fully capable of reading the fine print and making their own choices. But it may not be that simple.

A new U.S. report shows that the number of teens and young adults seeking emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks has doubled over the last four years and more than half those visits were for consumption of the energy drinks alone (42% of visits were in combination with alcohol or drugs.) Some of the notable adverse effects included anxiety, heart attacks and irregular heartbeats. A group of Canadian doctors are calling for a ban on the sale of energy drinks, such as 5-Hour Energy, to anyone under the age of 19, following the deaths of 13 young adults in the U.S. that are still under investigation by the FDA.

My biggest concern is that children of any age can buy AWAKE Chocolate and think they are getting a regular candy bar. Just one AWAKE bar exceeds the maximum recommended daily caffeine intake for children under the age of 12 years according to Health Canada’s “Information for Parents on Caffeine in Energy Drinks.”

I asked the pharmacist if she would sell a bar to a child and she said she would talk to them about why they were buying it and perhaps have a chat. But she said there was nothing restricting the sale of AWAKE Chocolate to children and most snack food purchases go through the registers at the front of the store, not the pharmacy counter. So cashiers are beeping an AWAKE bar through the scanner just like any other snack food.

Here’s the disclaimer language in tiny-type on the label, in light brown text on a dark brown background. Would you want your child to be able to buy this product?

Directions: Adults take 1 bar (44 g) as needed every 3-4 hours, up to 2 bars daily, or as directed by a health care practitioner. If security seal is missing or broken, do not use. For occasional use only. This product is not intended as a substitute for sleep. Consult a health care practitioner if you are of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding. If you are taking lithium, or if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, and/or detrusor instability (overactive bladder syndrome). Consumption with natural health products (e.g. bitter orange extract, synephrine octopamine, ephedra) or other drugs e.g. ephedrine, which increase blood pressure or other caffeine-containing products (e.g. medications, coffee, tea, colas, cocoa, guanana, maté) is not recommended. Hypersensitivity/allergy is known to occur, in which case, discontinue use. Caffeine may cause anxiety, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), palpitations, insomnia, restlessness, nervousness, tremor and headache.

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