For decades, Big Tobacco appeared invincible. Cigarette companies placed their products in stars’ hands to cement their popularity. Joe Cool and others lured in the youngsters, amassing a broad base of lifelong smokers. Executives denied and suppressed the terrible risks associated with their products, and business boomed.
Sounds a lot like the energy drink industry, doesn’t it?
In 2009, the U.S. passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a sweeping bill that aims to prevent children from becoming addicted to smoking. And yet, despite mounting evidence that caffeine has no place in children’s diets, there is still no U.S. regulation of the marketing and sale of energy drinks to minors.
Recent studies hammer home the risks: energy drinks raise blood pressure and stress hormones; increase the chance of cardiac arrhythmias; and are especially dangerous when consumed by young people, with alcohol, or during exercise.
As a result, Middlebury College recently banned energy drinks from its campus. In terms of the ban’s health benefits, dining hall services executive Dan Detora told NBC News, “I see it as the equivalent of banning cigarettes.”
Thanks to education and—more importantly—regulation, the percentage of American adults who smoke is at its lowest since 1965: 17.8%. Meanwhile, 30-50% of adolescents consume energy drinks, woefully unaware of the dangers.
Here are three ways that Big Energy unfortunately reminds us of Big Tobacco.
1. The energy drink industry targets children.
We’ve covered this in greater detail elsewhere on the site. The short version: several studies have shown that energy drink companies target children by advertising heavily on youth-oriented networks like MTV and Adult Swim, on social media, and at extreme sporting events.
Moreover, Monster Energy’s “Monster Army” is comprised of tween and teen athletes, its “Monster Girls” exciting only for prepubescent boys. An internal marketing document from 2009 revealed that the company targets kids as young as 9. (Most energy drink companies admit “only” to targeting 12-year-olds and up.)
Countless medical experts, lawmakers, and consumer advocacy groups have called for greater regulation, to no avail. Energy drinks are still sold in school vending machines nationwide, while more and more research shows that these extreme levels of caffeine and sugar have no place in developing bodies.
Like tobacco, caffeine is addictive, and like cigarettes, energy drinks taste nasty. This is why Big Energy wants to get them hooked while they’re young. They’ve taken a page out of The Big Tobacco Guide to Marketing.
2. Energy drink executives deny health risks.
For years, tobacco executives concealed research showing a powerful link between cigarettes and cancer. Today, energy drink executives deny any connection between their products and serious, even deadly side effects, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.
As energy drinks’ popularity has soared, so have emergency room visits involving their consumption. The number of these visits more than doubled between 2007 and 2011—from 10,064 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011. And the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has linked 34 deaths to energy drinks since 2004, with half of those occurring in just the past few years.
In response to high-profile caffeine casualties like Anais Fournier and Alex Morris, energy drink executives remain adamant that their products have been safely consumed for years. They blame fatalities on preexisting conditions, and say their drinks contain less caffeine than Starbucks’. (Starbucks, of course, doesn’t market to children, it contains only two or three ingredients, and its caffeine comes from a single source—unlike energy drinks’.) They even continue to hype their “killer energy brew,” boasting of the “vicious punch” it packs and the “smooth flavor” middle schoolers should “pound down.”
But the research is undeniable: energy drinks should not be consumed by children and adolescents, people with heart conditions or seizure disorders, people on medication, people with diabetes, and countless other at-risk subgroups—none of whom (but children) are warned on energy drink labels.
Until energy drink executives acknowledge the risks—or the FDA acts to curb them, the way it eventually did with tobacco—this burgeoning public health crisis will only worsen.
3. Energy drink companies fear Morgan & Morgan.
Our law firm has filed lawsuits against Monster, and we’re investigating claims against other energy drink companies on the grounds of severe injuries, inadequate labeling, and improper testing. We will hold them accountable as we did Big Tobacco, winning $90 million in verdicts and settlements.
As one of the largest consumer protection firms in the country, with 303 lawyers and a support staff of over 1,500 people, we are one of the few with the resources to take on Big Energy. Our main goal is to help individuals who have been wronged; that’s why our motto is “For the People,” and why we have never represented an insurance carrier or other large company.
At Morgan & Morgan, we are trial lawyers. That means we’re not afraid to go up against large corporations, and we have the track record to prove it. Whether it’s Big Tobacco or Big Energy endangering our youth, we will fight back—For the Children.