‘Tobacco wars’ senators take aim at energy drinks

Senators take aim at energy drinks
Three senators say energy drink makers such as Monster Beverage use advertising and sponsorship strategies similar to those once used by tobacco companies to attract young people. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

They are all “veterans of the tobacco wars,” as Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois put it. Over the years, they have sponsored legislation to ban smoking on airplanes, led efforts to remove depictions of tobacco use in films and successfully sued the tobacco industry for misleading the public about the dangers of smoking.

And at a recent hearing, the trio of Democratic senators — Durbin, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — grilled executives from an industry they said was selling an unhealthy product and an unsafe message to young people.

But the subject of their ire was not tobacco. It was energy drinks — sweetened beverages with large doses of stimulants for quick energy boosts. They have become increasingly popular over the last decade, particularly with high school and college students who often use them to study late into the night.

The hearing was the most notable battle so far in the senators’ latest campaign: to limit minors’ access to the beverages. Energy drink companies contend the effort is misguided and overstates the health risk of caffeine to teenagers. But Durbin, Markey and Blumenthal are drawing upon their previous fights against the sale and advertising of cigarettes to children under age 18. Read more >>>