For quite some time health experts and dieticians are lashing out heavily at fizzy and energy drink manufacturers for their aggressive advertising tactics and usage of certain ingredients that can be detrimental to health of consumers. Leading health entities have been mounting pressure on the government agencies to make new regulations to regulate usage of ingredients and such drinks and ask the sellers to streamline their advertising as well. The FDA said earlier this year it will look into role of caffeine used in a growing range of foods.
In a recent Senate hearing the US political leaders were engaged in a heated discussion session with leading energy drink sellers regarding these issues. The representatives of leading energy drink brands like Rockstar, Monster and Red Bull were present at the hearing. The hearing took place months after Jay Rockefeller, the commerce committee chairman sent letters to these energy drink makers asking them to clarify their stand on marketing practices. The multibillion-dollar energy drink sector was united in their efforts to fight back the allegations put on their products and strategies.
In a number of recent studies, it has been indicated that energy drinks can pose serious health risks for regular users. It was also found some of the popular energy drinks contain excessive amounts of caffeine and other ingredients that can lead to serious health implications and pave way for onset of critical ailments. It was in last month that American Medical Association declared that it would offer support for ban on targeting energy drinks to teens and kids below 18 year limit. It said caffeine heavy drinks are capable of causing heart complications in long run.
Senators Dick Durbin, Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal conducted research and discovered that majority of energy drink makers develop campaigns to target teens and kids who are more susceptible to their ads and promotions. Despite the energy drink entities agreeing to refrain from marketing to kids below 12 years, the senators stressed that they should extend the ban to include teens below 16 years. Senator Jay Rockefeller made it a point to mention, at the beginning of the hearing that in last few months 1,500 reports on energy drinks were submitted at US poison control centers.
The senators did not seem satisfied with the clarification given by the Monster Beverage Corp chairman and CEO Rodney Sacks on the Monster Army web page. They replied that the Monster’s program was akin to feeder strategies deployed by the tobacco brands to entice young smokers. The energy drink seller representatives also retorted to the allegations leveled by the politicians at the hearing. For instance, Janet Weiner Rockstar’s CFO and COO said that she found the allegations larger than necessary. She added that regular coffee contains far more amounts of caffeine than what is used in the company’s energy drinks.
The hearing was full of arguments and counter arguments. The senators tried their best to get commitments from the energy brands but they did not agree to label their products as not meant for users beyond 16 years as asked by the politicians. Rodney Sacks, Monster Beverage’s CEO said his company is particular about using ingredients in drinks including caffeine with safety in mind.
In the hearing room, there was Wendy Crossland who sued Monster Beverage last year following her daughter’s death after drinking Monster energy drink. The doctors seeing the case reported the teen passed away owing to caffeine toxicity. Amy Taylor, vice president of Red Bull in North America said that the company products are premium beverages meant for adults. However, she said that her company will not use teen or kid characters in advertisements. Senator Ed Markey caught her off guard by pointing out an inapt Instagram feed of Red Bull.
Janet Weiner, who co owns Rockstar said she felt a feeling of being victimized by all the negative attention showered on energy drink products. However, she also agreed to review social media sites of her company, in tune with two other energy drink brands.
American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Marcie Beth Schneider said that some parents offer energy drinks to kids to make them perform better in schools. William Spencer, another doctor supported this view. It is clear they are not aware of the risks. Yale University’s Jennifer Harris a food marketing expert said in channels like MTV that are viewed by lots of teens energy drink ads appear quite frequently. She also said energy drink brands were the early users of social media platforms. Senator John Thune agreed that caffeine in coffee is being consumed for several centuries but usage of caffeine in snacks and drinks were not common earlier.
The senators did not seem convinced by explanations of energy drink brand representatives that their products are not aimed at kids. Sen. Dick Durbin remarked how tobacco companies reiterated they were not aiming at kids when they knew getting kids addicted to their products at early age will result in customers that stick to their products for long. Sen. Edward Markey added money making was the motive of the brands above everything.