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People are eating Tide laundry pods and this is what owner P&G is doing about it

Back in February of last year, football star Rob Gronkowski starred in a Tide commercial as a dry cleaner who rips stains out of a customer's shirt.

Now, the member of the NFL's New England Patriots has made an ad urging people not to eat Procter & Gamble's Tide pods. The commercial is being shown on the laundry brand's Twitter and Facebook pages.

Some teenagers have been making videos showing themselves eating the brightly colored laundry packets in what has become known as the "Tide pod challenge."

The challenge first appeared around 2015, and videos of teens eating detergent packets are now doing the rounds on social media, according to a USA Today report.

Now the American Association of Poison Control Centers has warned that the trend is already a significant concern in 2018.

The AAPCC reported 39 cases of teenagers aged 13 to 19 eating laundry pods deliberately in the first 15 days of 2018 alone, equivalent to the number of cases it dealt with in the whole of 2016. In 2017, it handled 53 cases. The AAPCC does not name Tide specifically, instead warning about "potential poison exposure to single-load laundry packets."

"The 'laundry packet challenge' is neither funny nor without serious health implications," said Stephen Kaminski, AAPCC's chief executive and executive director, in an online statement. "The intentional misuse of these products poses a real threat to the health of individuals. We have seen a large spike in single-load laundry packet exposures among teenagers since these videos have been uploaded."

Younger children find laundry pods attractive because they can be mistaken for candy or a toy, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. But cases where under-fives ingest the packets tend to be unintentional, and Procter & Gamble made tubs of Tide harder to open in August 2017. Tide also has safety information on its website, including the Gronkowski advert.

A spokesperson from Procter & Gamble said it was working with social networks to remove harmful content, as well as the American Cleaning Institute to provide information to college students. "Nothing is more important to us than the safety of people who use our products. We are deeply concerned about the intentional and improper use of liquid laundry packs by young people engaging in intentional self-harm challenges," the company said in an emailed statement.

Tide led the liquid laundry detergent market in the U.S in 2017, with more than $1 billion in sales, according to figures from the Statista website.

This story has been updated to include a comment from Procter & Gamble.