Durbin, Blumenthal, Markey: AMA's Call for Ban on Marketing to Teens Should be Heeded by Energy Drink Companies

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Following a decision by the American Medical Association (AMA) to support a ban on the marketing of high stimulant / caffeine drinks to children and young adults under the age of 18, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) once again called on energy drink companies to immediately stop marketing their products to children and teens.  The members noted that, at their request, the Food and Drug Administration is currently conducting a review of potential health hazards associated with the consumption of caffeine in energy drinks and other foods and beverages.


“The American Medical Association – a well-respected group on science-based medicine and public health issues representing over 200,000 doctors – agrees that the risks of children and teens consuming highly-caffeinated energy drinks are just too great to ignore any longer,” said the members.  “This is an encouraging step and should be a signal to the industry that medical science is not on their side.  While the Food and Drug Administration continues to investigate the health impacts of the high levels of caffeine in energy drinks, the companies peddling these products to children and teens should immediately halt their advertising campaigns designed to attract young people to their brand.”


Durbin, Blumenthal and Markey are authors of a report entitled “What’s all the Buzz about?” that shows inconsistencies in the labeling and classification of energy drinks, extensive marketing to adolescents and young adults through social media and events, and high caffeine levels that exceed the level considered safe in soda by the Food and Drug Administration.  Specifically, the report found that adolescent consumers are frequent targets for the marketing pitches of energy drink companies through the use of unconventional marketing practices.   Product design and placement on store shelves assist in creating product images that appeal to children and teens. 


The report highlighted specific instances of marketing to children and teens including, the “Monster Energy Drink Player of the Game” awarded at some high schools to outstanding student athletes.  This is an honor which includes the students taking photos with a pack of Monster Energy in each hand.  Monster sponsors sporting events such as the Rick Thorne’s Grindz and Rhymez Tour, an event catering to kids in skate parks, at which Monster Energy paraphernalia is featured and Monster drinks are provided to children.  Red Bull’s website features the Red Bull Game Breakers, a high school football tournament, as well as photos of what appear to be student athletes drinking the beverage.  The company also sponsors the Red Bull Rookies Cup, a motorcycle race for children as young as thirteen. 


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and adolescents not consume caffeine and recommends that energy drinks never be consumed by children or adolescents.   Still, between 30 and 50 percent of adolescents and young adults consume energy drinks, according to an article published in the health journal Pediatrics.  A recent report by the AAP, entitled Energy Drinks: What Teenagers (and Their Doctors) Should Know, found that the energy drink market has grown to its current size – with 35% of teenagers regularly consuming energy drinks – by focusing marketing campaigns predominantly on adolescents.  It concludes that there is significant risk associated with energy drink consumption that may outweigh the benefits for adolescents. 


A 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found emergency room visits due to energy drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011.  Of those, people aged 18 to 25 were most likely to have energy drink-related emergency department visits.  In December 2011, a 14-year-old Maryland girl died of cardiac arrest after drinking two 24-ounce Monster drinks in a 24-hour period.


In response to a series of letters from Durbin and Blumenthal, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed in November 2012 that they are reviewing the safety of energy drinks containing caffeine and other ingredients that act as stimulants and may require regulatory action if evidence of a health risk is found.  The review includes examining adverse event reports and consulting with experts outside of FDA to better understand risks posed by energy drinks, additives, and high levels of caffeine consumption in youth.