In its ongoing battle with New York City over who can pass the most needless nanny laws, Chicago may soon score a point by putting the kibbutz on energy drinks. Alderman Edward M. Burke, a powerful member of the Chicago City Council, has proposed a blanket ban on the sale and distribution of high-caffeine drinks such as Monster, Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy.
The proposed ordinance defines energy drinks as “a canned or bottled beverage which contains an amount of caffeine exceeding or equal to 180 milligrams-per-container and containing Taurine or Guarana.”
I don’t have the energy – no pun intended – to hash out all the reasons this is silly. Beyond the normal adults should be able to decide for themselves arguments, there’s just no reason why energy drinks as a class should be banned. As I’ve pointed out here before, your average energy drink contains a similar amount of caffeine to a couple cups of brewed coffee.
One mega-can (24 ounces) of Monster Energy Drink contains 240 milligrams caffeine, significantly less than the approximately 415 milligrams caffeine in a large Starbucks coffee. For comparison, a can of Coke has 34 mg caffeine Pepsi Max 69 mg., a Rockstar Energy shot 200 mg., an espresso shot 77 mg., an 8-ounce cup of regular coffee 100-200 mg., and an 8.5-ounce can of Red Bull 80 mg.
There’s no justification for banning energy drinks but not other similarly caffeinated beverages other than pandering to public outrage. A few high-profile deaths and hospitalizations associated with energy drinks have made them fashionable targets.
Energy drinks can be dangerous to people with other health problems or when consumed with alcohol and/or other drugs. But so can any high-caffeine drink. The real problem isn’t energy drinks per se but irresponsible consumption of them (and the associated moral panic over their consumption by boozing young people). Attempting to ban them outright is politically lazy at best, the kind of obnoxious grandstanding politicians love to engage in while ignoring meaningful food, health and consumer safety issues.