Energy drinks under investigation by NY attorney general

The entry "energy drink," photographed two weeks ago, is a new addition in the latest edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
The entry "energy drink," photographed two weeks ago, is a new addition in the latest edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Energy drinks have come under fire again for their high amounts of caffeine and concerns about detrimental health effects. Last month, the New York attorney general issued subpoenas to three manufacturers to obtain more information on how much caffeine they contain and whether this amount poses any dangers, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported the news on Tuesday.

The US Food and Drug Administration two years ago cracked down on manufacturers of caffeinated beverages containing alcohol, convincing them to withdraw Four Loko, Max, and other products from the market after determining that the addition of caffeine to alcohol was an “unsafe food additive.”

But energy drinks are considered dietary supplements, so they’re under looser regulations than sodas and other beverages, which are considered to be foods. The attorney general’s probe is investigating potentially deceptive claims made on the drinks’ containers. AMP Energy makes a Focus beverage to “keep your head on track” and has an Active drink, which it promotes as helping with multi-tasking.

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The investigation is also examining whether certain plant extracts may be boosting the level of caffeine beyond what’s stated in the label.

While the FDA carefully controls how much caffeine is in sodas such as Mountain Dew and Coke, it can’t regulate the amount of caffeine found in energy drinks.

The American Beverage Association declined to comment on the attorney general’s action but issued a statement defending energy drinks, saying that “despite the misperception, most mainstream energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee.” With regards to deceptive caffeine amounts, the group said its members—which include PepsiCo’s Amp Energy—agreed to display the total caffeine amounts on their labels, “including those that come from other sources, such as additives.”

But these promises are voluntary agreements that have no real repercussions if they’re broken. The beverage association claims that its members pledged not to market their drinks to those under 18, but one glance at the snowboarding athletes hired by Amp Energy to endorse the product on its website suggests otherwise.

And Monster Energy appears to be targeting 15-year-olds based on the adolescent language in its advertising: “We went down to the lab and cooked up a double shot of our killer energy brew. It’s a wicked mega hit that delivers twice the buzz of a regular energy drink.”

Overdosing on caffeine in energy drinks is a particular concern in teens because 30 to 50 percent of them consume these drinks to avoid the effects of sleep deprivation or increase their performance in sports or on tests. In a study published last year, University of Miami researchers found that nearly half of the caffeine overdoses associated with energy drinks occurred in teens. Drinking too many of these drinks can cause vomiting, jitteriness, high blood pressure, and a racing pulse. In rare cases, the drinks were linked to heart attacks, heart failure, and death.