No. The American Beverage Association does not regulate its members; it only provides voluntary guidelines regarding energy drinks—and the ABA didn’t even do that until April 30, 2014. The guidelines ask these companies to self-identify as beverages, not dietary supplements; to declare the total quantity of caffeine from all sources on the label; to warn against consumption for children and pregnant or nursing women; to discourage the mixture of energy drinks with alcohol; and to discourage excessive or rapid consumption. They also request that energy drink manufacturers not market to children or sell their products in K-12 schools.
Unfortunately, it took several years for energy drink manufacturers to reclassify themselves as beverages and display their caffeine content on labels. With regard to rapid or excessive consumption, why sell your product in a 24 or 32-ounce, non-resealable can unless you want the consumer to pound this dangerously caffeinated drink in one sitting?
Moreover, by their own admission, most energy drink companies market their products to children as young as 12 (sixth graders). According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, energy drink companies define “minors” as children under the age of 12, for marketing purposes. And an internal Monster Energy marketing document dated in 2009 lists the company’s target audience as those born as late as 2000—nine-year-olds. Consider, too, the “Monster Army,” a program for 13-to-21-year-old athletes who receive sponsorship deals in exchange for representing the Monster brand.
It should come as no surprise, then, that in 2010, children saw more television ads for 5-Hour Energy than for any beverage but Capri Sun. Or that in 2011, a whopping 35% of eighth graders reported consuming an energy drink in the previous year. Or that the number of emergency room visits by 12-to-17-year-olds increased from 1,145 in 2007 to 1,499 in 2011. Some of these children—including a 14-year-old girl named Anais Fournier—died from caffeine poisoning.
In May 2013, the city attorney of San Francisco, Dennis Herrera, sued Monster Energy for targeting children in its marketing, calling it “the industry’s worst offender.”
In 2015—in response to dozens of fatalities, and echoing the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and lawmakers like Dick Durbin—a consumer advocacy group called the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity argued that, like tobacco, energy drinks such as Monster and Red Bull should be sold only to adults 18 and older. The ABA’s response? A coldly defiant statement: “Energy drinks have been enjoyed safely by millions of people around the world for more than 25 years, and in the U.S. for more than 15 years.”
Funny, tens of thousands of hospital visits a year doesn’t sound so “safe.”