American Beverage Association Launches Offensive on Caffeine

Hounded by consumer safety groups and lawmakers, energy drink companies have faced a firestorm of criticism and negative press over the last two years, with much of the vitriol incited by claims that product marketing is inappropriately targeted to reach children and adolescents. Yet while public wrath appears to have had little effect on sales of the leading energy drink brands, the prospect of class action lawsuits and increased regulation of highly-caffeinated beverages has certainly caused some unease among the top brands, including Monster, Rockstar and 5-hour Energy.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would begin to investigate the the safety of added caffeine in food and beverages as well as the effect of the ingredient on children. Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, FDA noted that the agency is “particularly concerned about children and adolescents, and the responsibility FDA and the food industry have to protect public health and respect social norms that suggest we shouldn’t be marketing stimulants, such as caffeine, to our children.”

Concerned that public perception has been unfairly skewed, the American Beverage Association (ABA), an industry trade group, has frequently rebuffed claims that energy drink companies intentionally market their products to minors and often compares the amount of caffeine in a typical energy drink to that of a cup of coffee. Recently, the organization published two statements intended to reinforce its view that energy drinks are safe and not marketed to children.

In a release published yesterday, the ABA pointed to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study titled “Trends in Caffeine Intake Among US Children and Adolescents” and published by The American Academy of Pediatrics, which found that “caffeine intake in the United States has remained stable throughout the last decade.” Additionally, “children and adolescents consume less caffeine than they have in previous years,” the ABA wrote.

The ABA stated that, “while energy drink consumption by children and adolescents continues to be a prevalent topic in mainstream media, it is important to note that this study’s data shows virtually no caffeine consumption from energy drinks among children under 12 and extremely low consumption for adolescents aged 12 to 18.”

Moreover, the CDC study found that from 2009-2010, soda accounted for 38 percent of total caffeine intake among children, while energy drinks account for only 6 percent of caffeine intake. (The ABA noted that caffeine intake from energy drinks were not measured in 1999-2000.) The study indicated that caffeine intake is growing among coffee drinkers; the beverage is responsible for 24 percent of total caffeine intake.

The ABA followed up with a statement titled, “FACT: Energy Drinks Contain About Half The Caffeine Of Similarly-Sized Coffeehouse Coffee.” The industry group wrote that “Contrary to what you might have heard, the vast majority of energy drinks consumed in the United States – including Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar, AMP, Full Throttle and NOS – have similar or lower levels of caffeine than home-brewed coffee… and many contain about half the caffeine of a similarly-sized coffeehouse coffee.”

The statement included a link to an ABA website called EnergyDrinkInformation.com, and a chart compares the caffeine in typical 16 oz. energy drink to that in similarly-sized cups of soda (with caffeine) and “coffeehouse coffee,” the image of which bares several similarities to the iconic Starbucks cup. The chart points out that the soda contains on average 40-70 mg of caffeine, while the energy drink has 160-240 mg and the coffee 300-330 mg of caffeine.