The makers of Tide Pods are warning people not to put them in their mouths after a social media challenge has teens eating them.
It sounds like a parent’s paranoid fantasy: teens knowingly ingesting poison for internet cool points. But the “Tide pod challenge,” where people film themselves putting a Tide detergent pod in their mouth and biting down, is absolutely real. It became popular after an internet meme jokingly called the pod a “forbidden snack” for its tasty appearance. But in the last month, some teens on social media have started taking the meme seriously, and have filmed themselves attempting to eat Tide Pods. One enterprising soul even attempted to vape the fluid inside of a tide pod.
But the new trend is seriously dangerous. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the liquid inside Tide Pods is caustic enough to cause burns to the esophagus and can induce cause vomiting and diarrhea. In the unlikely event that the fluid gets into the bloodstream, it could even prove fatal. And, bad news for the Tide-vaper: taking the liquid into your lungs can cause long-term breathing difficulties. The American Association of Poison Control Centers said on January 15th that they had already received 39 calls about Tide Pod poisoning, the same number they got in all of 2016.
Proctor and Gamble, the parent company of Tide Pods, has said in a statement that it’s “deeply concerned” about the trend and urged people not to eat Tide Pods or make memes joking about eating Tide Pods. And Youtube said on January 18th that it will be taking down any videos of people eating Tide Pods. According to their spokesperson, such videos violate Youtube’s policy against “content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm.”
This isn’t the first dangerous and inadvisable trend to hit Youtube. In 2012, Youtubers popularized the Cinnamon Challenge, where people attempted to swallow a spoonful of ground cinnamon in a minute with no water to help. But since cinnamon is caustic, an attempt to gulp it down can cause choking, breathing troubles, and even collapsed lungs. According to the journal Pediatrics, at least 30 American teens needed medical attention after trying to take the challenge in 2012. As of publication, YouTube has not moved to delete Cinnamon Challenge videos.
Even before teens started deliberately snacking on Tide Pods, consumer safety groups had raised concerns about their safety. Following their launch in 2012, Proctor and Gamble were forced to add a safety latch to the container the pods came in after young children mistook them for candy and tried to eat them. The pods also posed a hazard to older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
In 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission told NBC News that two children and six adults with cognitive impairment have died from eating the pods since they were released. Consumer safety advocates believe that the fatalities happened because people mistook the pods for candy, and have urged companies to redesign the pods to avoid future accidents.
As of publication, it’s unclear whether similar steps taken to stop teens from eating the pods will be successful.
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