WASHINGTON D.C. — There was a buzz in the nation’s capital Wednesday as U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and other lawmakers scrutinized the marketing tactics taken by energy drink producers.
Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, held a hearing to explore concerns about how energy drink companies target youth. The hearing came after public health experts raised serious questions about the use of energy drinks.
“As energy drink marketing and sales to children have increased, there has been a surge in emergency room visits associated with energy drinks,” said Rockefeller. “In the first six months of this year, poison control centers received about 1,500 reports involving energy drinks, more than half of which involved children under the age of 18.”
Senior executives from Monster Beverage, Red Bull and Rockstar defended their products and told the committee the ingredients are safe.
“Monster is, and always has been, committed to ensuring that all of the ingredients in its energy drinks, including caffeine, are safe and in regulatory compliance for their intended use,” said Monster Beverage chief executive Rodney Sacks.
Rockefeller commented on how health experts seem to disagree.
“Pediatricians and other medical experts have been saying that high levels of caffeine found in many of these drinks may pose health risks to young people such as heart arrhythmia, increased blood pressure and dehydration,” he said.
Just last month, the American Medical Association called for a ban on the marketing of energy drinks to children and teenagers.
“We’ve taken the appropriate steps as a responsible company to investigate the ingredients with scientists that have assured us that they are 100 percent safe for the age bracket of 13 to 17,” said Rockstar co-owner Janet Weiner.
Long before Wednesday’s hearing, committee members investigated the marketing tactics of energy drink companies to determine who exactly they were targeting.
“While energy drink companies say they do not market to children, adolescent consumers are frequent targets for energy drink marketing practices,” said Rockefeller.
Energy drink executives told lawmakers they don’t market to children under the age of 12, but those 13 and up are safe to use the drinks. Executives also stated they don’t encourage the rapid consumption of their products.
Members of the committee argued those comments by showing several multimedia postings by the companies which depicted the youth using the drinks.
Weiner said she felt like energy drinks were being demonized by the negative attention and believed the focus should be placed more on other drinks.
“We feel that if you are going to look at caffeine , you must, in all fairness to all of us, look at caffeine that’s coming to these teenagers from coffee,” she argued.
The committee gave no hints at following through with Weiner’s request, but did ask if all three companies would revisit their marketing tactics. All three executives agreed that they would review their company’s social media sites and pull down any posts that encourage unhealthy consumption of energy drinks.
In the next few weeks the Institute of Medicine, the Department of Health and Human Services and other leading health agencies are convening public panels to review the health effects of energy drinks.