A 2006 law requires makers of dietary supplements, including 5-Hour Energy, Monster and PepsiCo’s Rockstar, to report to the FDA any adverse effects involving their products. 5-Hour Energy has been associated with 13 deaths since December 2009 and Monster drinks have been associated with five deaths, according to FDA data released earlier this month. Red Bull, a $5.5 billion-a-year company whose product is regulated as a beverage, is not required to report adverse health incidents.
The FDA is in the process of clarifying the distinction between liquid dietary supplements and caffeinated beverages such as sodas.
Red Bull, PepsiCo Inc., the maker of Rockstar and Amp Energy, and Coca-Cola Co., the maker of Full Throttle, already voluntarily report the levels of stimulants, including caffeine and taurine, in their products and discourage use by children under the age of 12 in accordance with American Beverage Association guidelines. So far this year, the ABA has spent almost $1 million lobbying on this issue and others.
5-Hour Energy does not disclose the level of caffeine in its products, but a Mayo Clinic analysis found it to be 207 mg for each 60 ml shot. A 16-ounce brewed coffee from McDonald’s contains 100 mg of caffeine, while a can of Red Bull or Monster contains about 80 mg. Lutz declined to comment on the data.
The company’s spokeswoman also dismissed the senators’ concerns about the effect of high levels of caffeine consumption among young people. “That is so irrelevant to us because we don’t market to children,” she said. “You’re not looking at skate boarders going on the half pipe. You’re looking at construction workers. Primarily it’s adults, with that 2:30 [p.m.] feeling.”
Industry lobbyists argue that the deaths reported by the companies were merely coincidental and were not caused by consumption of the products themselves. They say energy drinks are unfairly targeted for caffeine content while coffee drinks that contain just as much, or more, caffeine are ignored.
The FDA reported in August that caffeine intake for healthy adults of up to 400 mg per day “is not associated with general toxicity, cardiovascular effects, effects on bone status and calcium balance (with consumption of adequate calcium), changes in adult behavior, incidence of cancer, or effects on male fertility.” The FDA has also noted that it has not determined whether the health incidents linked to energy drinks were actually caused by consumption.
That has not deterred Durbin and Blumenthal from taking on the issue. “Let me show this 5-Hour Energy picture. ... Everyone is pretty familiar with it because they are everywhere — literally everywhere. I watched on television last week when they were advertising promotions of 5-Hour Energy drinks saying, in the commercials, that some of the sales would go to promote research for breast cancer,” Durbin said, referring to an ad campaign for a pink-lemonade-flavored version. “There is almost the suggestion there is something healthy about this product.”