The Food and Drug Administration, along with state officials like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, has been breathing down the necks of energy drink makers, who have traditionally marketed their products as dietary supplements. As The New York Times reported Wednesday, the biggest manufacturers — including the makers of Monster and Rockstar — have adopted a new strategy, reclassifying their products as “beverages,” which exempts them from having to report health problems linked to the highly caffeinated drinks. That’s cause for concern because, if anything, the government needs to monitor more closely the health issues these drinks have purportedly caused when they’re consumed in large quantities.
Caffeine is a drug, the most widely used in the world and one of the most addictive. Some energy drinks contain no more caffeine than a cup of Starbucks coffee, but others have two to three times as much.
A February 2011 report in the medical journal Pediatrics asserted that excessive caffeine can cause heart palpitations, seizures, strokes, even sudden death. A report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network later that year indicates that emergency room visits associated with energy drinks rose 1,000 percent between 2005 and 2008, and roughly half of those visits were by 18- to 25-year-olds who had also consumed alcohol or other drugs.
When health problems arise among consumers, it’s important for the FDA, which in 2009 described “energy drink” as an unregulated, “ill-defined marketing term with widely varying ingredients,” to know about them. If simply reclassifying the drinks as “beverages” lets manufacturers off the hook, the government shouldn’t allow them to, or should tighten the rules for beverage makers.