Energy drink youth marketing debated
Sen. Richard Blumenthal could not constrain his incredulity.
At Wednesday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on energy drinks, Sacks was explaining how his firm didn't market to children. Blumenthal pointed to a web profile of a teen-aged member of the "Monster Army" team of outdoor athletes promoted by the drink company.
"I'm hard-put to accept that program is not intended to reach children," he said.
Sacks responded: "It's an athlete development program."
Blumenthal: "Take a look at this," pointing to an ad for "Cuba Lima," a Monster drink. "As legend has it a buzzed up Cuban hears his country has been liberated, holds up his drink, yells `Cuba Libre' and the famous cocktail is born," he quoted from the ad. "That glorification of the Cuba Libre is a message that youth should stay away from alcohol?"
Blumenthal, Ill. Sen. Dick Durbin and Edward Markey, formerly a member of the House and now a senator from Massachusetts, all have focused on the potential health effects and the marketing of energy drinks, urging the Food and Drug Administration to do more research after more than a dozen deaths have been preliminarily linked to the consumption of energy drinks. The three senators recently published a report, "What's all the Buzz About?" which sets forth what they found in an investigation of 14 energy-drink brands.
Industry leaders point out that there's far more caffeine in a similarly sized cup of coffee from Starbucks or other boutique coffee sellers than there is in energy drinks. But critics respond that the coffee brands are not marketed to young people the way energy drinks are.
Wednesday's hearing included testimony from two prominent Connecticut physicians, Dr. Marcie Beth Schneider of Greenwich, on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics; and Dr. Jennifer Harris of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.
Schneider pointed out that emergency visits involving energy drinks have doubled from 2007 to 2011, and said: "Energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents (but) current energy-drink marketing targets youth with considerable effectiveness."
Harris testified that energy drinks have been targeted to teens with social media, cable networks, smartphone apps, and event sponsorships.
Energy-drink company executives defended their marketing approaches.
Janet Weiner, chief operations officer and chief financial officer of Rockstar, Inc., said her company's products are labeled responsibly and not marketed to children.
"Rockstar's commitment to consumer safety is the company's No. 1 priority," she said, pointing out that her products were transparently labeled and included a warning that they are not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women, or those sensitive to caffeine.
Amy Taylor, chief marketing officer of Red Bull, said her company markets Red Bull as the "adult energy drink" and has also committed to a 12-ounce can-size limit, in response to criticisms that some energy drinks are marketed in large containers that cannot be resealed, promoting excessive consumption.
"Red Bull is committed to promoting active and healthy lifestyle choices," Taylor said.
Dr. James Coughlin, who has more than three decades of experience on health issues surrounding caffeine, told the committee that "caffeine is a safe food ingredient," and that energy drinks are just one more source of caffeine and as such are not of safety concern.