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Durbin calls on energy drink makers to stop marketing to children

Calls companies out in letters to CEOs

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 9:06 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO — U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has called on energy drink companies to stop marketing their products to children and adolescents.

Durbin announced he is joining U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in sending letters to the chief executive officers of Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster requesting explanations for their sponsorship of high school sporting events and advertising at venues like Little League games.

“Over the past year, there has been growing concern about the potential health risks posed by energy drinks,” the Senators wrote. “Your company has stated that it does not market energy drinks to children, however, we have learned about numerous instances which contradict that claim.

“In light of public health concerns regarding the consumption of high levels of caffeine by children and adolescents and your company’s position that your energy drink products are not marketed to children, we are deeply concerned by evidence demonstrating direct marketing of your products to youth.”

At some high schools, outstanding student athletes are awarded the “Monster Energy Drink Player of the Game,” an honor which includes the students taking photos with a pack of Monster Energy in each hand. Monster sponsors sporting events such as the Rick Thorne’s Grindz and Rhymez Tour, an event catering to kids in skate parks, at which Monster Energy paraphernalia is featured and Monster drinks are provided to children.

Red Bull’s website features the Red Bull Game Breakers, a high school football tournament, as well as photos of what appear to be student athletes drinking the beverage.  The company also sponsors the Red Bull Rookies Cup, a motorcycle race for children as young as 13.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents consume no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day.  One 16-ounce can of Monster contains 160 milligrams of the drug, a number that increases to 300 milligrams when additives are considered.  Still, between 30 and 50 percent of adolescents and young adults consume energy drinks, according to the health journal Pediatrics.

A 2011 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admin-istration found emergency room visits due to energy drinks increased ten-fold from 2005 to 2009.  Of those, 45 percent were for people aged 18 to 25.  In December 2011, a 14-year-old Maryland girl died of cardiac arrest after drinking two 24-ounce Monster drinks in a 24-hour period.

Last year, Durbin and Blumenthal wrote a series of letters to the FDA urging the agency to take action to ensure energy drinks are properly regulated.  In response the FDA confirmed it is currently reviewing the safety of energy drinks containing caffeine and other ingredients that act as stimulants.

The FDA also said it may take regulatory action of a health risk is found.  The agency is expected to report those findings in June.

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