Everyone seems to want a piece of the energy drink pie, and the supermarket shelves have become packed with a seemingly endless array of brands competing for the consumer’s attention. Unfortunately, along with success has come controversy.
Beverage manufacturers market to the most interested consumers. In the case of energy drinks, targeted consumers are aged 18 to 30, but actual consumers are often young teens. As manufacturers jostle to create the newest product with the trendiest name, appealing graphics, and high energy formula, consumer advocates and lawmakers are becoming concerned about the health effects of increasing use by younger and younger children.
In 2008, state lawmakers in Kentucky, Maine, and Michigan attempted to pass legislation that would ban the sale of highly caffeinated beverages to minors. Kentucky House Bill 374 would have prohibited the sale to minors of any carbonated beverage containing more than 71mg of caffeine per 12oz serving as well as common energy drink ingredients taurine and glucuronolactone. Michigan lawmakers introduced a bill with parameter matching Kentucky’s, while the Maine State Legislature proposed legislation that would have banned drinks specifically advertised as energy boosters and containing more than 80mg of caffeine per 8 ounces. Rhode Island attempted to ban the sale of energy drinks on school grounds. These bills would have meant the end of teenage purchases of the leading energy drink Red Bull, which contains 80mg of caffeine in its tiny 8.2 oz container.
While none of these bills passed, they should serve as a warning to manufactures to reconsider the current trend that each new energy drink must one-up the last with more caffeine and energy ingredients and crazier names, like the controversial Cocaine and Blow. This issue of energy drink health concerns is not going to simply go away. In October 2008, USA Today reported that Roland Griffiths, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, wrote a letter to the FDA calling for increased legislation of energy drinks. The petition, which was signed by 100 scientists and physicians, cited increased the risk to young drinkers of caffeine-intoxication and alcohol-related injuries as a major concern.
Of course, even if legislation does eventually pass, it is unlikely that teens will lose access to energy drinks entirely. With the state bills, teens would have still been able to rely on willing parents or other adults to purchase their beloved energy drink brand, or they could simply grab a cup of joe for an old fashioned jolt – the averaged 8 oz. cup of drip coffee contains more than 100mg of caffeine. NBJ estimates the energy drink market grew another 15% in 2008.
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