Energy Drinks

Rockstar Energy DrinkCaffeine is popular. Most North American adults consume some every day, usually delivered via a hot beverage (coffee, espresso, cappuccino, tea, etc.). It’s very likely the world’s most widely-consumed drug. But it’s also entirely unregulated. Combine that fact with the fact that there are fears about caffeine’s effect on kids, and you’ve got the ingredients for a marketing-ethics story.

In that regard, see this story, on Canadian news show “16:9 — The Bigger Picture”: Energy Drinks (Click on the video at right of the page to watch the first of four video clips, each roughly 8 minutes long.)

The news segment features heart-wrenching stories about how apparently-healthy teen boys dropped dead after drinking energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster Nitrous. Now, it’s worth noting that Red Bull (for example) has 80 mg of caffeine per serving, whereas a cup of drip coffee has between 115 and 175 mg. Other energy drinks, such as Jolt, have a lot more.

One other interesting note: the story points out that some energy drinks contain guarana, a plant extract that itself contains caffeine. But Health Canada’s regulations don’t require companies to include that caffeine in the amount it lists on the label. Presumably, ingredients of ingredients don’t count. An industry group cited claims that the amount listed on the label really is the total amount; but independent tests nonetheless found caffeine levels higher than listed.

And (as the 16:9 story makes very clear) there is little doubt that these products are being marketed to kids.

One last point: the reporter for this story makes much of the fact that energy drinks are not tested for safety. Each of their ingredients is considered safe, but there’s no requirement that beverage makers test the safety of that combination of ingredients. I suspect the reason is just that such a requirement is implausible, especially given that, in Canada, energy drinks are (very loosely) regulated as “natural health products.”

(I’ve blogged before about energy drinks: What Next? “Diet Crack?” “Meth Lite?”)

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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