Lawmakers Consider Banning Sale of Energy Drinks to Minors, Citing Health Concerns

Connecticut is considering legislation that would ban the sale of energy drinks to children under 16 (CT Examiner).

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HARTFORD — Caffeinated energy drinks with names like Bang, Rockstar and Full Throttle continue to gain popularity with thirsty and sluggish consumers. But some state lawmakers have proposed banning the sale of these beverages to children under 16, amid health concerns. 

The restriction would apply to beverages that contain more than 80 milligrams of caffeine per 9 ounces and other additives such as B vitamins or herbal extracts.

The issue is of “great importance” to State Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, who has advocated for the ban for years. She noted, however, that the bill doesn’t prohibit the consumption of energy drinks by minors, just their ability to purchase it. 

“It’s simply a bill to empower parents to make those decisions for their children by requiring a parent to actually be the one to purchase it,” she said during a Feb. 29 Committee on Children hearing regarding the legislation.

In 2022, Americans spent $18.5 billion on energy drinks, up from $11 billion in 2017. Energy drinks now account for almost a third of the sales of packaged beverages sold at U.S. convenience stores. The popularity of energy drinks, particularly among adolescents, is fueling concerns about the health risks to children posed by the beverages’ high levels of caffeine, sugar and other energy-boosting ingredients.  

Red Bull, the leading energy drink in the country, has nearly the same sugar content as a similar-sized Coca-Cola but more than three times the caffeine. With ingredients such as green tea and ginger extracts, Celsius energy drinks contain no sugar but 200 milligrams of caffeine per can.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children and adolescents avoid energy drinks. According to the group, consuming beverages high in caffeine has been linked to increased anxiety, increased heart rate and blood pressure, hyperactivity, inattention, sleep disturbances and poor decision-making. In addition, children who drink caffeine may have symptoms like headaches, irritability or fatigue after the effect wears off.

The National Federation of State High School Associations recommends young athletes not use energy drinks for hydration, yet 30 to 50 percent of teens reported consuming these beverages.

Darien mom Sueann Schorr said her teenage son drinks about two energy drinks a week, as well as Dr. Pepper and coffee. While she’d prefer that her son limit his caffeine intake, she said she’s more skeptical of energy drinks and rarely buys them for him. 

“I am more likely to buy him a soft drink than an energy drink. For me, the point of the energy drink is the caffeine, where the point of the soda is the flavor,” she said.  

Despite the health concerns associated with caffeine consumption in adolescents, she doesn’t think banning the sale of energy drinks to minors would stop teenagers from drinking them.  “I think kids will probably still get them,” Schorr said.

Ariel Guffin, Red Bull’s government affairs director, said there is no scientific justification to discriminate against energy drinks and regulate them differently than other caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, tea and soda. According to Guffin, energy drinks represent a minor percentage of the caffeine consumed by children and adolescents, with caffeine intake primarily coming from coffee, tea and sugar-sweetened beverages.

State Rep. Gale Mastrofancesco, R-Wolcott, agreed that the proposed ban is an overreach by the government. 

“There’s so many products out there that are bad for your health, for your teeth. Do we go down this path to start banning everything?” she said. 

Sandra Grance with the American Beverage Association explained the ban is unwarranted because energy drinks are recognized as safe to consume by public health authorities. 

“Consumers can be confident that energy drinks, like all foods and beverages, are in fact regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” she said. She also cited an FDA study that found overall caffeine intake has not increased since energy drinks entered the U.S. market decades ago.

But State Rep. Sarah Keitt, D-Fairfield, said she’s also concerned about the stimulants and other additives in energy drinks, like tyrosine, taurine and herbal extracts.  

“I’m concerned about the energy drinks that do have these substances that, when consumed in large doses by young children, can have negative impacts on their bodies much more so than just caffeine would have or sugar,” she said.

Peter Brennan, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, representing over 1,500 stores in Connecticut, noted the difficulty for many convenience retailers to determine, without clear markings, which drinks would fall under the ban, putting them at risk for violating the law.  

“Our belief is that regulating beverages because of sugar content, or any other health-related factor, should be done by the FDA, as they are the subject matter experts,” he said at the hearing.