U.S. Senate Committee to Explore Energy Drink Marketing Tomorrow

The debate over energy drink safety is moving to the U.S. Senate tomorrow with the start of hearing in the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation examining concerns about energy drink companies’ marketing practices.

The hearing is scheduled for July 31 at 2:30 p.m. The committee chairman, Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) is holding it to explore concerns from doctors and public health experts about the risks energy drinks could hold for children and teenagers.

In June, Rockefeller and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) sent letters to the country’s four largest energy drink companies asking them to disclose their marketing practices with regard to children.

Those marketing practices have come under close scrutiny at a public level, with the American Medical Association also weighing in by requesting a ban on marketing energy drinks to children following its major policy-making conference in June.

At the time, both Rockefeller and Blumenthal praised the AMA, with Rockefeller noting “I’m concerned that some energy drink marketing tactics may be influencing impressionable children.”

Energy drink companies have made it clear that they do not target minors in their marketing practices, and include label copy that warns against their use by kids and other potential consumers. But Rockefeller cited concerns about the promotion of youth athletes and the use of social media by energy drink companies as examples of questionable practices.

At the root of the hearing, however, is the growing debate about the growth of the energy drink category in relation to public safety. Much of the heat around the category stems from lawsuit filed by the family of a Maryland teen who died after reportedly drinking two large energy drinks, which has resulted in the plaintiff drawing public attention to records of adverse event reports filed with the Food and Drug Administration. Those reports, while by no means a direct link between energy drink consumption and illness or death, record instances in which energy drinks were noted on health care professional reports of instances involving incident reporting.

Blumenthal and two other Senators, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have already released a report on energy drink marketing, which will be discussed during the hearing.

Several other reports have come to light in recent months. Most recently, a study sponsored by the University of Miami indicated that 717 calls reported to the U.S. National Poison Data System over a 12-month period involved the accidental consumption of energy drinks by children under 6 years old. Such calls, however, represent less than .1 percent of the total calls to those agencies.

At stake is the future direction of an $8 billion business that has been the leading source of new revenue in the non-alcoholic beverage category over the past decade. The energy drink and energy shot categories have led to the creation of four billion-dollar brands: Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar, and 5-Hour Energy, as well as several other large companies and brands.

A list of witnesses is expected to be posted later today, according to committee staffers. At least one witness, Suffolk County Legislator William Spencer, a Long Island, N.Y. doctor who headed that county’s push to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors in Suffolk county parks, is already known.

The hearing comes shortly before the Senate recesses for five weeks, beginning on Friday.