Should the powerful, caffeine-fueled so-called “energy drinks” be regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)? Is there sufficient evidence of harmful effects in energy drinks to justify regulation? Thesis: This paper takes the position that energy drinks should indeed be regulated and consumers should be informed on the packaging as to the amount of caffeine contained in each container and as to the potentially negative impacts associated with energy drinks.
What studies have been conducted relating to energy drinks?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a report on energy drinks in 2008 that reflects “â€¦increasing reports of caffeine intoxication from energy drinks,” which raises concern for two reasons. One, because there are a number of other adverse health effects that have been associated with energy drinks; and two, the growth of the market for energy drinks has skyrocketed in the U.S. (Reissig, 2008).
In fact the NIH reports that from 2002 to 2006 the annual growth in the sales of energy drinks was 55%; and in 2006 the annual sales of energy drinks in the U.S. was estimated to be around $5.4 billion. The amount of caffeine in the average energy drink (although it varies depending on the manufacturer) can be as much as 505 mg per can (or bottle); compared to a typical 6-oz cup of brewed coffee (up to 171 mg of caffeine), energy drinks are extremely powerful and potentially dangerous (Reissig, p. 1).
Moreover, energy drinks also contain substances like taurine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, nicotinamide, B vitamins and “â€¦various herbal derivatives” as well (Reissig, p. 1). Because the long-term effects of these additives are not yet known, the NIH suggests that the “potential for adverse health consequences” should be given consideration and may point towards the need for “preemptive regulatory action” (Reissig, p. 1). It appears that notwithstanding the FDA’s requirements that cola-type soft drinks may not contain more than 0.02% caffeine (or 71 mg per 12 fluid oz), over 130 energy drinks today now easily exceed the caffeine limits set by the FDA in 2003 (Reissig, p. 2).
How can manufacturers get away with going well over legal limits for caffeine in energy drinks? Reissig believes they are being coy and deceptive with the regulations; to wit, because energy drinks also contain herbs and natural sources, the energy drink companies justify their products by calling them “dietary supplements rather than drugs,” which under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, they can get away with (p. 2).
Deaths Associated with Energy Drinks
(Pathos) How serious are the side effects for people who regularly use energy drinks like “Rockstar Energy,” “5-Hour Energy,” and “Monster Energy”? Given that death is the most serious side effect imaginable, if it can be proved that death results from consumption of energy drinks, one can state with certainty that some energy drinks should be taken off the market.
(Ethos) in looking for credibility and ethical journalism, one of the most reliable news sources in the world is the New York Times. The Times reported in November, 2012, that 13 people have died after allegedly consuming 5-Hour Energy. Moreover, the Times reports that since 2009, there have been “â€¦some 90 filings with the F.D.A.” referencing health problems associated with 5-Hour Energy (Meier, 2012).
Of those 90 filings, thirty related to “â€¦serious or life-threatening injuries like heart attacks, convulsions and, in one case, a spontaneous abortion” (Meier, p. 1). When contacted by the Times — regarding the report of 13 deaths — Manoj Bhargava, the chief executive of “Living Essentials,” the company that produces 5-Hour Energy, said he preferred not to discuss the filings to the FDA of those 13 deaths. The Living Essentials company claims it markets its high-powered beverage (which is sold in a 2-oz bottle as a “shot”) to “â€¦hardworking adults who need an extra boost of energy” (Meier, p. 2).
Another article in the respected New York Times reports that in addition to the 13 fatalities linked to 5-Hour Energy, another 5 deaths have been linked to “Monster Energy” (Meier, 2012). These data were released by the FDA in November, 2012, because, according to spokeswoman Shelly Burgess, the FDA is making “â€¦an effort to be transparent” (Meier, p. 1). While the FDA did not officially find the product at fault — at this point there are linkages but no empirical proof that the deaths were a direct result of consuming the energy drinks — Burgess added that if a “relationship between the consumption of the product and harm” can be proved, the FDA will take “appropriate action to reduce or eliminate the risk” (Meier, p. 1).
(Logos) Can these reports of negative health impacts linked to energy drinks be believed — and are the manufacturers worried about their profits and their image? One sure and logical way to determine that a company is running scared and trying to protect its image is when they rush to hire lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Indeed, Red Bull and Monster, among the leading energy drink manufacturers, have hired lobbyists; Red Bull North America hired two lobbyists (Heather Podesta & Partners; and Olsson, Frank, Weeda, Terman, Matz) in late 2012, and Monster hired the Covington & Burling lobbying firm, paying them $100,000 in late 2012 (Huffpost, 2013). Neither of these companies had previously hired lobbyists, which leads the alert reader to surmise that Monster and Red Bull are worried about the FDA’s release of information that links energy drinks to death and other negative health impacts.
In conclusion, while the debate as to the safety of energy drinks drones on in Washington and elsewhere, a wrongful death suit has been filed by the parents of a 14-year-old California girl who apparently died after drinking two 24-oz cans of Monster in a 24-hour period. How can energy drink companies justify continuing to market their products as safe when so much evidence has been accumulated showing that energy drinks may not be safe, especially for young people and in particular when teenagers are known to drink several cans in a short period of time? Three Democratic members of Congress have sent letters to more than 12 beverage companies as part of an ongoing investigation; will the lobbying by energy drink companies trump investigations by Congress? Given the back-biting and polarization in Washington, no one can be sure anything positive will come from an investigation — but energy drinks should be regulated and if Congress and the FDA fail to come to terms with this danger, democracy and American citizens will be the losers.
Huffpost. “Energy Drinks Hire Lobbyists to Fend Off Regulation.” Retrieved March 6, 2013,
Meier, Barry. “Caffeinated Drink Cited in Reports of 13 Deaths.” The New York Times.
Retrieved March 6, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com. 2012.
Meier, Barry. “F.D.A. Post Injury Data for 3 Drinks.” The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com. 2012.
Reissig, Chad J, Strain, Eric C., and Griffiths, Roland R. “Caffeinated Energy Drinks — a
Growing Problem. National Institutes of Health.” Retrieved March 6, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. 2008.
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