In launching an investigation into the marketing of so-called energy drinks , New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is probably doing something the federal government should do: After all, these beverages are sold in all 50 states. But the feds haven't taken the initiative and sales of energy drinks have been booming, so more power to Schneiderman for grabbing the Red Bull by the horns.
The issue involves caffeine, an extremely popular but essentially unregulated stimulant. Drinks like Monster, 5-Hour and Amp contain varying degrees of it -- some less than a regular cup of coffee, some two to three times more -- and Schneiderman reportedly wants the products' labels to state exactly how much. He also wants to know whether the drinks ' other ingredients (like black tea extract or guarana) contribute anything to the " energy " they claim to provide, or are perhaps just hidden sources of more caffeine.
These are reasonable demands, given the addictive nature of caffeine, and how heavily these beverages are marketed to teens and college students, as well as to people in bars. When combined with depressants like alcohol or marijuana, for example, caffeine's stimulative tendencies can be masked, and an imbiber can put away unhealthy amounts of it before feeling any ill effects.
Indeed, there are several: According to a February 2011 report in the medical journal Pediatrics, too much caffeine can cause heart palpitations, seizures, strokes, even sudden death. A report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network last November indicates that emergency room visits associated with energy drinks rose 1,000 percent between 2005 and 2008. Roughly half of those visits were by 18- to 25-year-olds who had also consumed alcohol or other drugs.
In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration raised questions about the safety of botanical extracts added to beverages and foods beyond their traditional use, and described " energy drink " as an unregulated, "ill-defined marketing term with widely varying ingredients."
So in the absence of an FDA effort to look more closely at these beverages (which largely escape regulation because they are marketed as dietary supplements instead of food), Schneiderman is wise to launch an investigation of his own.