Federal Legislators Respond to Critical Energy Drink Reports

Sen. Richard Durbin

In case the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wasn’t paying attention, Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to the agency highlighting recent reports that emphasize the downsides of energy drinks.

“In light of the emergence of these novel products and evidence that consuming large quantities of caffeine, particularly for young people, can have serious health consequences, including caffeine toxicity, stroke, anxiety, arrhythmia, and in some cases death, FDA’s safety review of energy drinks associated with consuming high levels of caffeine could not be more critical to protect the public’s health,” the letter said.

The letter mentioned two reports: a critical analysis of energy drinks and marketing by the medical journal Pediatrics in Review, and a tally by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which noted that the number of emergency room visits related to consumption of energy drinks more than doubled from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,793 in 2011.

According to Forbes, the report written by Pediatrics in Review and titled “Energy Drinks: What Teenagers (and Their Doctors) Should Know,” asserts that energy drink companies market directly to adolescents and that high caffeine intake has led to teen health problems like insomnia, anxiety, elevated blood pressure and digestive issues. The article also noted that high school and college students regularly mix alcohol with energy drinks leading them to underestimate their level of inebriation and engage in risky behavior.

For the past few years, Durbin and Blumenthal have led the legislative torch in the battle against deceptive energy drink marketing. The senators have attempted to initiate tighter regulation of the category by proposing an act that would require manufacturers of dietary supplements to register their products with the FDA. The act, which would also amend labeling requirements, was introduced in 2011 and has not yet passed.

In response to the death of Anais Fournier, a 14-year-old girl who suffered from cardiac arrest and caffeine toxicity shortly after consuming two Monster Energy drinks, Durbin sent a letter to the FDA in April that called for stricter marketing regulations for energy drinks. The FDA responded with a letter in August, stating that energy drinks are comparable to other highly caffeinated beverages, like Starbucks coffee, and that the FDA had yet to find that consuming 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day can be toxic.

Markey joined the senators in January by sending letters to 14 different producers of energy drinks and energy shots, asking how their marketing relates to their ingredients. This move by the legislators could be seen as an effort to encourage investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), after failing to draw results from the FDA.

While these legislative efforts may have recently deterred sales of energy drinks and shots, the products have grown considerably over the past four years. A study released on Friday by market researcher Packaged Facts found that energy drinks and shots have grown by 60 percent from 2008 to 2012, and their sales exceeded $12.5 billion last year. The energy drink category grew 42 percent from 2008 to 2012, while energy shots grew 168 percent during the same period.