Lawmakers Request Energy Drink Information from Manufacturers

Chicago proposes ban of products with more than 180 milligrams of caffeine

WASHINGTON -- Three Democratic lawmakers sent letters to 14 marketers of highly caffeinated energy drinks on Thursday requesting information about the products’ ingredients and any company studies showing their risks and benefits to children and young people, according to a New York Times report.

In recent months, the Food and Drug Administration has begun examining the safety of energy drinks after receiving reports of deaths and injuries potentially associated with the products. The number of annual emergency room visits involving the drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011, according to a federal report released last week.

In addition, claims by drink producers that their proprietary formulations give consumers a physical and mental edge are coming under scrutiny. There is little scientific evidence, researchers say, that the drinks provide anything more than a high dose of caffeine similar to that in a cup of strong coffee, according to the report.

The letters were sent by Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts to companies including Monster Beverage, Rockstar, Red Bull and Living Essentials, the distributor of the 5-Hour Energy shot. Letters were also sent to PepsiCo, which sells Amp; Coca-Cola, which sells NOS; and Dr Pepper Snapple, which sells Venom Energy.

Among other questions in the letters, the lawmakers asked the companies to specify the total amount of caffeine in their energy drinks. Products like 5-Hour Energy that are marketed as supplements do not list the amount of caffeine used, and producers take it from a variety of sources, including synthetic caffeine, the guarana plant and tea extracts.

They asked why each company chose to market its energy product as a beverage or a dietary supplement. The two categories have separate rules about ingredient disclosures and reporting of potential health risks.

The lawmakers also requested any studies that the marketers have run or underwritten that examine the effects of energy drink use on children or young adults, the report states.

Chicago Ban?

At the same time, Chicago may ban the sale and distribution of energy drinks--not just to minors, but to consumers of all ages--under a surprise crackdown proposed Thursday.

Ald. Edward M. Burke, chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, proposed the blanket ban, citing the popularity of the drinks among teenagers and young adults and the dangers those drinks can pose to their health, according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Last month, Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas proposed that minors under the age of 21 be prohibited from purchasing energy drinks in Chicago.

Cardenas said he wasn’t really interested in banning the sale of energy drinks to minors. He simply wanted to get the industry’s attention and educate parents and young people about the dangers of energy drinks.

Burke could not be reached for comment.

His ordinance states, “No person shall sell, give away, barter, exchange or otherwise furnish any energy drink.” Violators would face fines ranging from $100 to $500 for each offense.

The ordinance defines energy drinks as “a canned or bottled beverage which contains an amount of caffeine exceeding or equal to 180 milligrams-per-container and containing Taurine or Guarana.”

Under that definition, the typical can of Red Bull would apparently still be available in the city. The company’s website lists the caffeine content in an 8.4-ounce can as 80 milligrams, well short of the ordinance’s threshold.