Monster Beverage, which is “among scores” of caffeine-laden energy drinks “like Red Bull and Rock Star … that companies are aggressively marketing to teenagers and young people,” has been in the news recently. In fact today, Monster made the front page of the New York Times today. Seems like after being sued by the mother of a teenager who died after drinking lots of Monster Energy, reports surfacing of more deaths that occurred after people drank it, and a group of doctors and public health officials now urging the FDA to protect kids from “serious potential health risks” posed by these dangerous energy drinks, Monster has decided to do what any responsible corporate citizen would do: it is remarketing itself. Specifically, Monster has decided to remarket itself as a beverage (rather than a dietary supplement) so it will “no longer be required to tell federal regulators about reports potentially linking its products to deaths and injuries.”
And unfortunately, the law right now lets them do that! The New York Times notes, “the changes by [Monster] demonstrate the degree to which energy drink manufacturers can decide which rules to follow.” Not that there is much regulation of the dietary supplement industry anyway, but apparently even some of those rules were just too hard for Monster to follow.
But think about that for a moment. A company that’s currently under scrutiny for – and is now being sued for - causing deaths and injuries, is re-marketing itself so that it won’t have to tell anyone if it learns that its products may have killed someone. And no doubt, it will learn such things. Since October, when the FDA disclosed that five deaths occurred after people drank Monster, the FDA has received three more death reports and 14 injury reports. What’s worse is that this product is being specifically targeted at young people.
The doctors and public health officials note that in addition to being potentially linked to deaths, drinks like Monster can cause cardiovascular complications, seizures, and neurological problems in young people. Indeed, the autopsy and medical examiner reports of the teen whose mom is suing Monster say she died of “’cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity’ that had exacerbated an existing heart problem.”
Monster is denying any legal responsibility and is fighting this grieving mom in court. But incredibly, she isn’t Monster’s only legal target. Also on the list is a nutritionist who writes a newsletter for elementary schoolers, who has criticized the energy drink industry – not even Monster Energy or any other product, by name. According to the Times, Monster is now threatening legal action against her, for what they call defamatory statements in a newsletter meant for kindergarteners through fifth graders. “They are going after me for reaching that segment, and it boggles my mind,” she said.”
Energy drink related emergency room visits have skyrocketed from 1,128 in 2005 to 20,783 in 2011. And children are drinking a lot of energy drinks. In a survey nearly 20% of eighth graders said they use one or more energy drinks every day. Now, Monster won’t have to come forward when it learns its drinks may be linked to injuries and deaths. And at the same time, the company is using the legal system to fight parents and intimidate critics. Let’s hope somebody does something soon.