Massachusetts teen dies after Paqui’s ‘One Chip Challenge’


The Carolina Reaper and the Naga Viper are two of the world’s hottest peppers. The former averages about 1.6 million Scoville units and the Naga Viper stands only a bit less at 1.3 million. (This metric is named after scientist Wilbur Scoville, who determined how to measure a pepper’s pungency and heat back in 1912.) When both are brushed onto the dust of a chip, they make a Paqui that burns so hot, the unit of the Hershey Company warns consumers, it’s a “truly twisted experience.” As part of its “One Chip Challenge,” the company dares eaters to see if they can endure it for $9.99—and it just saw its first known case of a death after ingestion, a 14-year-old in Massachusetts.

Paqui challenged eaters to take on the reaper and viper peppers via a website decorated with a red skull and a snake weaving through it. The company also used to challenge people to see how long they could hold off drinking or eating anything after consuming the chip, according to the New York Times, but it has removed that language from its side following the death of Harris Wolobah, a teenager from Worcester, as first reported by the Boston Globe. “How long can you last before you spiral out?” the official website read.

Lois Wolobah told the Times that her son Harris had shown her a picture of the coffin-shaped chip box where the Paqui was located, telling her that’s what he had eaten while doubled over, clutching his stomach. Two hours after his mom had taken him from the school nurse, Harris was sent to a hospital, where he died shortly afterward. Lois said her son had no other health concerns, and there will be no autopsy results for up to 12 weeks, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told the Times

Paqui is owned by Amplify Snack Brands (the owner of the considerably milder SkinnyPop), which has been a Hershey subsidiary since a $1.6 billion acquisition in 2017. 

The “One Chip Challenge” has been around for some time now, with a spokesperson for Paqui telling Time in 2016 that “the Paqui Carolina Reaper chip delivers such a gripping tidal wave of heat that people can only handle one chip.” 

Challenges are often a way that public marketers try to cue into social virality and fads. Taking a cue from the early fads like the cinnamon challenge or planking, these companies make hashtags associated with their brands in hopes of spreading the world and getting an extra boost to sales. Just look at the recent McDonald’s Grimace Birthday, which took off after Gen Z put its own spin on the promotion. After the typically existential humor trend took it to almost 3 billion TikTok views, McDonald’s saw a sales boost of more than 11%. But these hits can take a deadly turn.

Teenagers like Wolobah are often more drawn to these challenges, according to clinical psychology researchers. “In recent years, social media challenges have grown more popular—and more dangerous, leading to serious injuries and even deaths,” wrote Elisa Trucco and Julie Cristello for The Conversation., explaining that teens are more vulnerable as they use social media often, are more susceptible to peer pressure, and are in a more risk-taking stage of their lives.

The Hershey Company did not immediately respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.

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