‘The cinnamon challenge’ is no child’s play, poison control warns
ORLANDO, Fla. (MCT) — Compared with texting while driving or hard-core drug and alcohol use, teenagers using an everyday cooking spice in a game of dare may sound like harmless child’s play.
But a fad that has kids daring each other to swallow at least a spoonful of powdered or ground cinnamon without drinking water is anything but, U.S. poison control centers are warning. Because the pungent spice is so dry, the body’s immediate reaction is to choke, gag and ultimately vomit.
In fact, “the cinnamon challenge” can lead to excessive vomiting and, in extreme cases, respiratory distress. It has produced a noticeable spike in calls to poison control hot line numbers nationwide.
“Supposedly, the ‘fun’ part is to watch someone choke and retch and vomit. That’s what’s considered fun,” said Wendy Stephan, health education coordinator for the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami, which covers the South Florida region. “People think of it as just silly fun, but for some people it can be a really miserable experience.”
According to American Association of Poison Control Centers data, during all of 2011, poison centers nationwide received 51 calls about teenage over-exposure to cinnamon. But in the first three months of this year, the centers have already received 139 such calls. Of those, 122 were classified as intentional misuse or abuse, and 30 required medical evaluation.
Florida has seen a small number of calls, but they’re on the rise. So far this year, Florida’s poison control centers have received seven calls about over-exposure to cinnamon, four of them from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Stephan said.
Last year at this time, no cinnamon-related calls had been placed to Florida’s poison control hot lines. There were eight such calls all of last year, two of them from the South Florida area, Stephan said.
Although they have had no episodes in their classrooms, Palm Beach County school officials have been aware of the cinnamon challenge since the beginning of the school year, and, in response to the poison control alert, have made educational materials available to all health and physical education teachers so they can discuss the dangers of spoon-fed cinnamon, district spokeswoman Vickie Middlebrooks said.
During the past 15 months, the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, which takes calls from Central Florida, has received three reports of youths taking the cinnamon challenge: an 11-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy, both from Seminole County, and an 18-year-old male from Orlando, said JoAnn Chambers, nurse educator for the Tampa center.
“This wasn’t even on our radar until a few months ago,” she said. Because calls from concerned parents were trending up, the information center held a training program two months ago to make staff members aware of the cinnamon-dare trend and to educate those taking calls to properly respond.
“We probably haven’t captured all or even most of the cases, because technically cinnamon is not a poison,” she said.
Poison control officials don’t know why the cinnamon exposure calls are spiking now. The “game” has been a YouTube sensation for years. A video dubbed “The Best Cinnamon Challenge” has been viewed 3.7 million times since going up in December 2007.
In February, comedian, actress and singer Colleen Ballinger posted a YouTube video showing her doing the challenge in character as her Internet meme personality, Miranda Sings. It got 70,000 hits the first week and has been viewed more than 171,000 times since Feb. 20.