Who is most vulnerable to the dangers of energy drinks?

Children and adolescents, which constitutes a full-blown health crisis given the energy drinks’ merciless marketing tactics. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that “caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.” Because children are still developing, they are especially susceptible to the negative and addictive effects of caffeine and other drugs. Unfortunately, their age and naivety also makes them especially susceptible to advertising. Big Energy has followed the Big Tobacco blueprint in preying on children with the aim of acquiring lifelong consumers.

By their own admission, most energy drink companies market their products to children as young as 12 (sixth graders). 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.”