“It’s exactly what’s happening and we can’t kid ourselves about the direct correlation that exists between the market practices and the increased use by younger people of these beverages,” he added.
Energy drinks can contain large amounts of caffeine as well as other stimulants like taurine. Health experts have warned that excessive consumption, especially among children, can be unsafe and even lead to death.
Those fears have led lawmakers like Durbin, who has long supported a crackdown on the drinks, to call for companies to curb their advertising aimed at children and teenagers.
Rodney Sacks, chairman of the Monster Beverage Corporation, told members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that his company “does not market to children and has never done so.”
He added, “Monster considers the primary demographic of consumers of its energy drinks to be young adults, primarily males, and its brand initiatives and brand image are directed toward this population.”
However, major companies in the industry often advertise prominently on social media websites, television programs and other outlets that have a large teenage fan base. Additionally, they sometimes use young athletes as spokespeople for the drinks in their ads.
That behavior sounds like advertising to children, senators contended.
Markey and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pointed to online campaign by the companies that seem to promote children’s consumption of the drinks.
A Monster effort, for instance, highlights young athletes in action sports like motocross and skateboarding plastered in clothing branded by the company.
“If tobacco companies put a cigarette in the mouth or hand in one of those children, their denials of marketing to children would be laughed out of this building,” Blumenthal said.
That program, Sacks said, is “an athlete development program” and meant as “an opportunity to allow athletes to develop.”
Janet Weiner, head of the Rockstar energy drink company, claimed that her industry was “being demonized in a sense here.”
She said that coffee companies were not also targeted for the high levels of caffeine they serve, which is also easily available to children.
“We don’t see coffee makers on skateboards or the types of ads that we’ve seen today,” Blumenthal retorted.
Beyond the spread of energy drinks, lawmakers and regulators have expressed concern about the growing prevalence of caffeine in nontraditional food products like maple syrup and candy.
In May, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would start to investigate the role of caffeine in a growing variety of foods, an announcement that led the gum maker Wrigley’s to pull a line of caffeinated gum.
“When I hear that caffeine may now be added to products as diverse as potato chips and marshmallows, I have to wonder whether our fascination with caffeine has gone too far,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).