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The Cinnamon Challenge is this millennium’s version of your mother admonishing you with, “If someone tells you to jump off a cliff, would you?,” for taking on a dare from your friends.
The challenge — attempting to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon powder in 60 seconds without liquids — isn’t just painful. According to a paper published yesterday in the journal Pediatrics, cinnamon misuse was cited in almost 200 calls to U.S. poison control centers during the first half of 2012 with 30 of these cases requiring medical attention.
The corresponding author, Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz of the University of Miami School of Medicine, suggests that the combination of cinnamon’s caustic chemical and undigestible cellulose matrix makes the practice particularly damaging to the lungs.
Yes, the ingestion of the powder invariably stimulates the gag reflex followed by inhalation of the powder that’s stuck inside the mouth and throat. The pain then causes rapid exhalation characterized by “dragon breath” upon blowing the powder out. Good times.
The complete PDF of this Pediatrics report is currently available online without a subscription.
The idea of the challenge has circulated for years but has intensified with the popularity of YouTube, especially in the last three years. The oldest YouTube video documenting such a challenge was uploaded on April 2, 2006. Pre-YouTube, the Cinnamon Challenge was first documented on the web by Michael Buffington as it was played by Erik Goodlad on December 21, 2001, according to KnowYourMeme.com. The CC2K1 was then reported by Jason Kottke on December 22, 2001. Buffington’s original URL is no longer active but is archived at his current site, collusioni.st.
So if it’s not already apparent, why shouldn’t you take the Cinnamon Challenge?
1. ”Natural ” is not always safe. Just because cinnamon is a naturally-occurring spice — it’s harvested from the dried bark of several Cinnamomum tree species — doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful. Cinnamon is deemed safe for consumption as a food additive under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s classification of Generally Recognized As Safe, or GRAS, list. But the FDA is silent on spice inhalation.
2. Cinnamaldehyde rhymes with formaldehyde. The chemical that gives cinnamon its characteristic smell and zing is known as cinnamic aldehyde, or cinnamaldehyde. This means there’s a part of the chemical that acts like formaldehyde that binds and “fixes” human tissue. Do you remember smelling formaldehyde in your high school biology class when dissecting some dead animal? That’s what cinnamaldehyde can do in high concentrations.
3. Cinnamon is ground tree bark. So not only are you inhaling a tissue fixative, you’re also inhaling powdered bark. That’s why it’s difficult to spit out or, more importantly, get out of your lungs. The cellulose matrix of tree bark acts like a sustained release medicine, but in this case releasing a painful and damaging chemical. The body cannot metabolize cellulose. That’s probably okay for the stuff that’s swallowed. It’ll only burn tomorrow morning at potty time. But the stuff in the lungs is hard to expire. In my grandfather’s day, inhaling coal dust led to a condition called black lung. In my father’s day, people would get a lung cancer called mesothelioma from inhaling asbestos fibers. In 1984, a paper in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine detailed the lung disease and hair and weight loss in Sri Lankan spice workers who process cinnamon quills.
4. Only doing it once can trigger an asthma attack. Doing it once won’t cause any of these chronic illnesses — probably. This 1995 paper in the Indian Journal of Medical Research shows that rats given a single intratracheal dose of cinnamon powder can develop severe lung damage a month later. In humans, inhaling cinnamon powder even once could at least cause an asthma attack, or uncontrollable spasms and narrowing of the bronchioles. While I haven’t yet seen any reports of deaths associated with the Cinnamon Challenge, I would never attempt doing this because I have a history of asthma and try to steer away from anything that might trigger a fatal asthma attack. In fact, I really don’t care for non-fatal asthma attacks. You shouldn’t either.
5. Just because you saw it on YouTube, does that mean you should do it?
That’s what my generation is currently telling their kids.
Friends don’t let friends do the Cinnamon Challenge.
Physics professor Rhett Allain has more on the science of the Cinnamon Challenge at Wired.
BILL'S VIDEO OF THE DAY...
An unexpected letter from the Internal Revenue Service can make your stomach drop, but you can take steps to reduce your audit risk.
Taxpayers overall face a low audit risk: The IRS audited 1.1% of all individual tax returns filed in 2010, or 1.6 million returns of 141 million filed.
The vast majority of those audits—1.2 million—were done by mail. Just 392,000 involved an in-person meeting with the IRS. That's not necessarily good news. Taxpayers often are confused by IRS correspondence, and with such audits they don't have the benefit of working with one single agent, the National Taxpayer Advocate says.
But the risk of an audit skyrockets for some. Fully 12.5% of taxpayers whose income topped $1 million faced an audit. And self-employed people who filed a Schedule C with gross receipts of $100,000 or more faced an audit rate of about 4%—four times higher than average taxpayers. Here are seven red flags:
Sole proprietors filing a Schedule C can reduce their audit risk by sticking to the facts—or at least making sure their expenses and income are not dramatically different from similar businesses.
For example, one Chicago-based hot-dog-stand owner said his cost of goods sold was 50% of gross receipts, says Robert McKenzie, a partner in the law firm Arnstein & Lehr. "I know Chicago hot dogs are great, but he had a high cost."
The IRS found the hot-dog salesman was reporting his expenses but only part of his revenue. He faced "a lot of tax and penalty," Mr. McKenzie says.
Check out BizStats.com for an idea of whether your numbers are out of line; Mr. McKenzie says the IRS tells its agents to review that site for average business costs.
Taxpayers who claim large deductions attract attention. "Anything that is significantly above what persons in your income bracket might deduct is likely to be looked at," says Mr. McKenzie.
"The mantra I preach to my clients is keep good records," says Audrey L. Griffin, an enrolled agent in Centerville, Ga. "You're going to get the best possible, honest, legal result and you have nothing to fear."
The IRS may decide your business is a hobby—especially if you have other income sources. For example, Mr. McKenzie says, the IRS disagreed with an executive who, in addition to his annual salary of $500,000, deducted expenses for his yacht, claiming it was a business charter operation.
In another case, a young man with annual trust-fund income of $300,000 decided to become a race-car driver. He wrote off his costs, including the car, maintenance and the like.
In both cases, the taxpayers settled with the IRS for a partial write-off, Mr. McKenzie says.
If you show income from your job or business and claim rental-property losses, be wary. IRS rules limit deducting those losses in the current year, unless you prove you're actively involved in managing the property.
"It's a real hot item right now: Audit people who make significant income from their jobs and also claim rental losses," Mr. McKenzie says.
In one case, the wife of a real-estate attorney—a stay-at-home mom with three young kids—managed the family's rental properties, but the IRS said the couple couldn't deduct rental losses in the current year. On appeal they won their case, Mr. McKenzie says.
"We were able to prove yes, he couldn't have devoted 50% of his time [to the rentals] and made $600,000 a year, but she could," he says.
Ms. Griffin's clients often insist that 100% of their driving is related to business and thus their costs are 100% deductible, but when she digs deeper she finds they often use that same car for non-business purposes.
"Then it's not 100%, which is the reason the IRS requires you to keep mileage records," she says.
You may be able to claim a deduction for expenses related to your home office, including home-insurance and utilities costs, but be prepared for the IRS's attention.
"I would not discourage a client from taking that deduction if they qualify. I just try very hard to make sure they know the requirements and keep good records," Ms. Griffin says.
But is it worth it? You would claim a deduction for a percentage of the housing expense related to the square feet of office space divided by the home's total square footage. "It may be a very small percentage and it may not be worth raising this red flag," Ms. Griffin says.
Among people who claimed the EITC—a refundable credit worth up to $5,751 in 2011 for moderate-income taxpayers—2.2% of returns filed in 2010 were audited.
There's a "high level of noncompliance," Mr. McKenzie says, often because fraudsters exploit this benefit to line their own pockets. For instance, scammers will provide an extra Social Security number so taxpayers can claim an extra dependent—and increase their credit.
It's a valid tax credit—just mind the scams and stick to the truth.
Write to Andrea Coombes at firstname.lastname@example.org
—Andrea Coombes is a personal finance editor for MarketWatch. Read more at marketwatch.com.
From the Museum of Hoaxes...
Which one is your favorite?
How many times has your success depended on knowing something that most people don't? The survey research I did for my new book, Business Brilliant, uncovered just how frequently highly-successful people think and act differently from the great majority of people with identical levels of education and smarts.
There are certain elements of success that everyone agrees on--ambition, hard work, persistence, and a positive attitude. But my survey showed how some people have "business brilliance," a distinctive take on getting ahead that is often at odds with the more pervasive mindset.
If you want to get an edge and separate yourself from the common herd, take some cues from the seven beliefs and habits of the most successful people:
1. An equity position is necessary to get wealthy.
Ninety percent of the super-successful say this is true, versus fewer than half of the masses. More importantly, 80 percent of "business brilliant" people say they already have an equity stake in their work. Just 10 percent of the middle-class have an equity position of any kind, and the vast majority (70 percent) say they're not even trying to get one.
2. I'm always looking to gain an advantage in my business dealings.
About 90 percent of "business brilliant" individuals say they are always trying to grab an edge, compared with just about 40 percent of the middle-class. Gaining even small advantages in a series of deals can have a cumulative effect on your wealth, but since most people aren't even looking for one, they're that much more likely to end up on the disadvantaged side of every deal.
3. Doing things well is more important than doing new things.
Getting wealthy usually means you've taken an ordinary idea and executed it exceptionally well. That's what 9 in 10 "business brilliant" people believe. Most other people, though, think that wealth requires a big, new idea. Unfortunately for them, big ideas are rare and risky. Too many people are waiting on the sidelines for the perfect big idea to come along, while the most successful people have jumped in the game, and busily honed their skills at execution.
4. I hire people who are smarter than I am.
Exceptional execution requires those who are business brilliant to focus on the two or three things they do very well. So they get their work done by building teams with complementary capabilities. Surveys show that most people, though, would rather learn to do tasks they're bad at than get others to do them. The business brilliant know that you get to the top because of your strengths, not your weaknesses.
5. It's essential I really understand my business associates' motivations.
If you're dependent on other talented employees, you'd best know what makes those talented people tick. That's the belief of about seven in 10 people in my "business brilliant" cohort, compared with fewer than 20 percent of the middle-class. My survey suggests that your willingness and desire to really get to know and understand your business associates is a sure marker of success--and one that most people don't have.
6. I can easily walk away from a deal if it's not right.
The "business brilliant" know that bad deals, like bad marriages, can be painful--and costly. So if the deal on the table isn't right, 71 percent say they have no problem cutting bait and moving on. Only about 22 percent of the middle-class say the same. Most people are willing to take their chances on deals that don't seem right from the start, even though it's less risky to walk away.
7. Setbacks and failures have taught me what I'm good at.
Those who are "business brilliant" have, on average, more failures than members of the middle-class. But they use those failures to help them succeed on the next attempt. Just 17 percent of the middle-class say they learn from their failures in this way, which is really a shame. Everything worth trying contains an element of risk, after all. If you fall on your face, you might as well learn from the experience to help you succeed on your next try.