Better Labels for Caffeine in Drinks Sought

We have long reported on the dangers of some so-called <"">“Energy Drinks” containing potentially harmful levels of caffeine, such as Red Bull, No Fear, X-505, Fixx, and Rockstar.  Some of these drinks can contain caffeine amounts equivalent to 14 cans of Coca-Cola, according to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University.  The study suggests that manufacturers of these highly caffeinated drinks should be required to list caffeine content, indicate recommended limits, and include warnings about the use of the products by children.  The study appears in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence; Chad J. Reissig of Johns Hopkins is the lead author.

Study researchers noted the tremendous increase in sales of drinks, such as Red Bull, which they report ranged in caffeine levels from 50 to 505 milligrams per container.  A typical six-ounce cup of coffee has caffeine levels from 77 to 150 milligrams.  The team also pointed out that without proper labeling, consumers might not know what they were drinking and how much is too much.  Because of this, consumers are placed at risk for caffeine intoxication, which can lead to nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, tremors, rapid heartbeat, and overdose.  “At a minimum, it just makes people more mindful of what they’re doing,” Roland R. Griffiths, study co-author, said of the better labeling suggestions.  The researchers note that in other countries, labeling is required.  For instance, the European Union requires that highly caffeinated drinks contain a “high caffeine content” label.

A typical 12-ounce soft drink generally contains around 35 milligrams of caffeine, while the same size energy drink can contain as much of 500 milligrams.  The large difference in caffeine amounts leaves most consumers with no idea as to how much caffeine is contained in any given drink.  Worse, most energy drinks are sold as dietary supplements, and by U.S. law, their makers do not have to submit safety evaluations to federal regulators before the products are marketed.  Unlike soft drinks, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not require that caffeine levels be listed on energy drinks.  They are also not required by the agency to comply with the maximum caffeine content for soda and other beverages.

While the  FDA has no “hard limit” on caffeine in soft drinks regulated as foods, the agency generally regards caffeine to be safe in soft drinks if it makes up 0.02 percent or less of the product, measured by weight. That translates to 71 milligrams in a 12-ounce container, according to the Johns Hopkins study.   “If you are going to use a drug, you should know what it is, what it does, and how to use it effectively,’’ study author Roland Griffiths said.  “If you don’t label that, you don’t know that.”

Energy drinks have been heavily marketed to teenagers and young people, and they are the biggest consumers of such drinks.  The Johns Hopkins researchers cite a study that surveyed almost 500 college students and found 51 percent reported drinking at least one energy drink in the last month. Almost one-third of these students reported “weekly jolt and crash episodes” and 27 percent said they mixed alcohol with energy drinks at least once in the last month, the report said.

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