Recently, there has been a lot of controversy about so-called energy drinks. These are caffeinated drinks sold as energy boosters. They may be carbonated or uncarbonated and can be found at just about any convenience store or gas station. Many come in large-sized cans, but an increasing number are of the “shot” variety, coming in a single small bottle or can that can be downed in just about one gulp.
San Francisco sues Monster for marketing energy drink to kids
A fight between Monster Beverage and San Francisco’s city attorney is intensifying. The city attorney is filing a lawsuit against Monster Beverage Corp, the maker of Monster Energy Drinks, accusing the company of marketing to young children.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera said Monday that Monster markets it highly caffeinated drinks to children as young as 6 years old, despite scientific findings that such products can cause health problems including severe cardiac events.
The lawsuit comes after Monster last week sued Herrera over his demands that it reduce the caffeine levels in its drinks and stop marketing to minors.
On Monday, Herrera noted that his office had been working with Monster in “good faith to negotiate voluntary changes” when the company abruptly filed its lawsuit.
New York’s attorney general has subpoenaed energy drink makers including Monster about how the drinks are made and marketed, and Democratic Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have repeatedly called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into the safety of the drinks.
Monster has been in the spotlight since October 2012, when the parents of 14-year-old Anais Fournier of Hagerstown, Md. sued the company after their daughter went into cardiac arrest after drinking two of popular energy drinks in 24 hours.
The FDA said in Oct. 2012 it was investigating five deaths and one heart attack linked to Monster Energy Drinks dating back to 2004. One can contains about 240 milligrams of caffeine.
The company denied its drink’s role in the girl’s death in March, with company lawyer Daniel Callahan telling the Associated Press at the time that physicians hired to review the girl’s case determined she died from natural causes, brought on by pre-existing heart conditions.
Oh great, my own Senator, Dick Blumenthal is now getting himself involved. In fact, Blumenthal does not just think that the drinks should not be marketed directly to minors, he actually has suggested that an ID be required to buy them, making them only available to those over 18. Presumably meaning they be kept behind the counter and being subject to carding like cigarettes and alcohol. (Sorry, I do not have a citation for that, as I heard this when he was speaking on a radio interview.)
There are a couple of problems with this:
- Energy drinks, for all the hype are really nothing more than caffeinated beverages. What makes an “energy drink” different than something like Coca-Cola or Pepsi is arbitrary. Many have more caffeine than common sodas, but some don’t. In general, all have much less caffeine than coffee, which, could legitimately be marketed as an energy drink, but usually is not.
- There is no evidence that would indicate that there is anything especially dangerous about energy drinks. It’s true that they are not very nutritious as far as foodstuffs go. They’re loaded with sugar and their claims of having beneficial vitamins and enzymes are, at best dubious, but that does not make them any worse than any other soft drink.
- The amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not so high as to preclude one from getting an equal or greater dose of the stuff from other means. In other words, if you are going to go after energy drinks, you had best be ready to go after a large portion of soft drinks out there.
The example of Anais Fournier is certainly unfortunate, but there’s no reason to think that two Monster Energy Drink. Based on the reports, she apparently drank two of the drinks over the period of 24 hours. That means she had about 320 milligrams of caffeine during that period of time.
There is a great deal of hype over energy drinks, what they do and what active ingredients they may contain. The truth is that, for all their claims of providing lasting energy from enzymes, vitamins, minerals, or some other special compound, they all work in exactly the same way that “energy drinks” have been working for centuries.
Although caffeine, the active ingredient in energy drinks was not isolated until 1820, the stimulating effects of caffeine-containing plant material, such as coffee beans, tea leaves and kola nuts had been known since antiquity.
Brewed coffee, which became popular across the Middle East and Europe in the 1600’s, remains one the largest sources of caffeine. And, overall, brewed coffee is at least as potent a caffeine source as most energy drinks.
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