Not just colas and "pepper" drinks (Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb) have caffeine today. Brands like Mello Yello and Sunkist Orange do also. Consumers are often unaware that other drinks contain as much or more caffeine than colas.
Dr. Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., says that he is concerned about soda-drinking children who may have difficulty handling caffeine.
"It's crazy to have a drug in a food that's so widely used by children," says Dr. Jacobson, whose group is lobbying for a ban on caffeine in soda pop.
Dr. Jacobson says caffeine in soft drinks also may affect adults, citing studies indicating negative effects of a large caffeine intake, particularly on pregnant women.
The FDA has proposed taking caffeine off its GRAS list (a list of additives "generally recognized as safe"), and putting it on an "interim" list for safety testing. The FDA also has proposed that caffeine no longer be required in cola and pepper drinks, as it is under current law.
The Virginia-based Federation of Homemakers, like Dr. Jacobson's group, wants the FDA to ban caffeine in soft drinks. But federation director Ruth Desmond says that close connections between the soft drink industry and the FDA make this effort difficult. She notes that the former head of the FDA's bureau of foods, Dr. Howard Roberts, now is a vice-president of the National Soft Drink Association.
Mrs. Desmond says that her group is concerned by reports that cola drinks have become the staple drink of many children, especially among the poor.
"Milk is gone, fruit drinks, none of them stand up to the caffeinated drinks, " she says, adding that early consumption of large amounts of caffeine may give children a taste for later drug use.
Mrs. Desmond says that manufacturers do not need to use caffeine for drinks to have a cola taste.
Soft drink manufacturers generally argue that caffeine is a flavoring agent which enhances the taste of their products, and is not a chemical additive designed to artificially stimulate drinkers.
"Caffeine is a classic bittering agent and it blends very well" with sugar in soda, says Jay Smith, spokesman for the National Soft Drink Association.