Caffeine in colas: 'The Real Thing' isn't the taste

"The marketing parallels between nicotine and caffeine are pretty stunning"

The majority of people who drink colas can't tell whether a soda contains caffeine or not, according to a new Johns Hopkins study. "This stands in sharp contrast to the claim some soft drink manufacturers make that they add caffeine purely for taste," says psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., who directed the research.

In a study of 25 adult cola drinkers, the scientists found that only 8 percent of them could detect caffeine in cola at a concentration of 0.1 milligram per milliliter, the concentration in Coca-Cola Classic or Pepsi. The rest of the group couldn't taste the difference between caffeine-containing and caffeine-free cola until caffeine levels were raised to much higher levels beyond those approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The report appears in this month's Archives of Family Medicine.

"I'd like to see the soft drink industry come out of denial about the role of caffeine in their products," says Griffiths. "They're adding a mildly addictive, mood-altering drug, one which surely accounts for the fact that people drink far more sodas with caffeine than without." About 70 percent of all soft drinks in this country contain caffeine, he adds. The caffeine-free versions of Coca-Cola Classic and Pepsi, the two most popular soft drinks, make up only 5 percent of sales of those sodas.

"Given that sodas are aggressively marketed to kids, manufacturers should openly say why the caffeine is there. We should tell what the caffeine dose is. It's a case of knowing what you're getting and why.

"The marketing parallels between nicotine and caffeine are pretty stunning," says Griffiths. "Both are psychoactive drugs. Until recently, cigarette companies denied that nicotine is addicting and said it was added merely as a flavor enhancer for cigarettes. The same is being said for caffeine." In 1998, Americans guzzled 15 billi

Contact: Marjorie Centofanti
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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