New York’s attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman thinks there’s something funny about energy drinks. No, it’s not that they rot your teeth, or that they can cause depression and anxiety. He’s issued subpoenas the makers of Monster, 5-Hour Energy, and AMP (which is PepsiCo), because, according to a source close to the case, he thinks they are making false marketing claims about what “healthy” ingredients (like magical, proprietary “vitamin and mineral” blends) actually give you all that energy. Spoiler alert: It’s just tons and tons of caffeine.
Energy drinks, which have been growing in popularity among children and teens, frequently make it sound like what’s really delivering that “burst of energy” with “no crash” is some kind of mystical herbs or potent B vitamins. But–and this is what the probe is looking into–what’s most often driving all that high-powered energy is actually just regular old caffeine, a stimulant that can be great in small amounts, but dangerous in large quantities.
The makers of these energy drinks, then, may be misleading consumers by giving the impression that their products are somehow safer or less addictive or potentially harmful than they really are. Additionally, energy drink labels are notoriously full of unrecognizable “vitamins” and other additives, and vague about other things (like how much caffeine is actually in them).
That inability to parse out what’s actually in their drink makes it difficult for consumers to parse out what they’re ingesting. But due to their relative newness, energy drinks are also more loosely regulated and monitored.
The FDA been dragging their feet on energy drink labeling and messaging. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill) urged them to look into these beverages back in April. This month, the government organizationresponded, stating that most energy drinks contained an amount of caffeine that’s comparable to coffee, and assured him that they were keeping an eye on the industry.
A large-scale probe like this one, though, may change that, and lead to more strict labeling and consumer protection laws.
Of course, plenty of other people have come out swinging against energy drinks. One Florida county banned all energy drinks in schools, and several schools ranging from elementary to university level have either followed suit, or considered a similar decision. Which is probably for the best–highly-caffeinated, sugary energy drinks have been found to be pretty bad for kids, leading to naseau, vomiting, dizziness, shakiness, and even withdrawal symptoms.
But not everyone agrees with bans, or even further investigations. Commenters on the Wall Street Journal article on this subject were quick to point out that New York has been doing an awful lot of cracking down lately–something they see as frivolous.
“Wow. The people in NY have too much time on their hands,” noted one respondent.
“Nanny State!!” another exclaimed.
Still, others see the probe as a useful way to let the free market do its job–without doing it at the expense of consumer heath.
Govt’s role should be to keep business honest in their interactions with consumers — not to tell consumers what they can and cannot have or do. The ingredient labels need to be thorough and accurate, and govt should do occasional audits to verify. Product claims need to be legit… If they’ve violated their need to be fundamentally honest with their consumers, they should be appropriately punished.
As energy drinks grow in popularity, it’s likely that the body of research and concern around them will, too. Hopefully, probes like this will spur consumer protection agencies (like the FDA) to catch up, and at least require more clear, standardized labeling and advertising.
In the meantime, just remember that all those vitamins and minerals aren’t really what’s keeping you going after you down a Rockstar–it’s the caffeine.
Image via stevendepolo on Flickr