NY Bans marketing of Red Bull but misses the bull’s eye

Suffolk County in New York recently passed legislation that limits the marketing of energy drinks* to minors, and while this sounds like a brilliant demonstration of the movement to protect children from over-caffeinating themselves, I have several huge concerns.

First of all, notice I put an asterisk by the words “energy drink”, above. The US Food and Drug Administration considers a product with the word “drink” to be a beverage, as opposed to a supplement. Beverages and supplements have different regulations regarding their label and how product safety is monitored. [For the full discussion, see my previous blog: Beverage Vs Supplement]

Does this regulation apply only to energy drinks, meaning caffeinated products with a Nutrition Facts panel, or does it also apply to caffeinated products with a Supplement Facts panel? Monster energy drinks have a supplement facts panel (for now), but Red Bull has a Nutrition Facts panel. Rockstar products are split: some are supplements, some are beverages. Are we limiting marketing of ALL CAFFEINATED PRODUCTS and does this legislation include measures to prevent minors from ordering a Venti coffee with over 5 expresso shots?

And what about these caffeinated products, Starbucks Refreshers, will these be included in the legislation? They have caffeine, and if you consume more than 3 in one hour you’re bound to get jitters.

Second of all, the bill’s sponsor, Willam Spencer, highlighted THE WRONG PROBLEM in his letter to the media. According to an article in Food Product Design, “William Spencer said energy drinks consumed by kids may contain up to 800 milligrams of caffeine” (Food Product Design article).

In my life, I have examined over 100 caffeinated product labels–beverages, supplements, shots and coffees from several different states and from quite a few different countries. IN MY LIFE, I have never seen a product with 800 milligrams of caffeine. I am not denying that there is a product somewhere in the world with over 800 mg caffeine in one container, but the most popular energy products–Rockstar, RedBull, Amp, 5-Hour Energy, Monster, NOS, Full Throttle, RedLine–do not have 800 mg of caffeine in one container.  

Check it out for yourself on this brilliant site from Energyfiend.com: The 15 top energy drink brands (and their caffeine content – click on the brand name)

Notice I said above, “…in one container.”

Alas – the true problem: minors (and adults as well) are consuming too many caffeinated products in a 24-hour window. Where is this issue addressed in the legislation? According to the NBC New York report, “The law prohibits the marketing of energy drinks to minors, prohibits the sale of the drinks in county parks and sets up an extensive public education campaign on the side effects associated with the beverages.” NBC New York report

I will be very interested in reading what this “extensive public education campaign” entails. Is it led by physicians? Does it include information on the maximum daily dosage of caffeine considered safe? (400mg – see previous blogs) Does it carry a strong message that the AMOUNT OF CAFFEINE ONE CONSUMES is dependent on the product as well as THE NUMBER OF SERVINGS ONE CHOOSES TO CONSUME IN ONE HOUR?

For the sake of everyone, I sincerely hope this public education campaign includes a lesson on reading labels, and on the importance of NOT mixing energy drinks with alcohol. If we don’t address these issues, this bold piece of legislation will be ineffective at protecting people from the true hazards of caffeinated products.


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