San Francisco Sues Monster Energy Drink Maker For Marketing To Kids

(Credit: CBS News)

San Francisco’s public attorney has filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverage, the maker of the popular Monster energy drinks, over concerns that the company is targeting its potentially-dangerous products to children as young as six years old in its advertising campaigns. Energy products like Monster have been coming under increasing scrutiny recently as reports of their adverse health consequences have been on the rise.

The lawsuit is the latest skirmish in a battle that began when the parents of a 14-year-old girl with pre-existing heart conditions — who died after consuming several cans of the product in a 24-hour period — sued the company towards the end of last year. That prompted San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera to open negotiations with the drink maker in an effort to persuade them to use safer ingredients. Herrera claims that the talks were occurring in “good faith” — until Monster suddenly sued him last week over his product change demands, which Monster argues that only the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to make. Now, Herrera is suing the manufacturer under the auspices of a California marketing and public health law, noting that Monster’s website “uses children as young as six years old to promote its brand.”

There have been at least five deaths and one heart attack potentially linked to Monster products since 2004. In fact, as energy products have grown in popularity, the number of energy drink-related emergency room visits ballooned to a staggering 20,000 between 2007 and 2011 — a two-fold increase in just four years. That’s led congressional leaders and FDA officials to focus attention on an industry that has, until now, largely been spared scrutiny over public safety concerns. Monster recently responded to this pressure by relabeling its products as “drinks” rather than “dietary supplements,” a move that frees it from its responsibility to report incidences of its products’ adverse public health requirements.

However, that same decision may end opening up Monster to more robust federal oversight. “Food” products must contain ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe” — something that critics argue do not fit the description of little-known caffeine-like substances used in Monster drinks such as taurine. The FDA recently announced that it would ramp up investigations into energy-enhanced food and drink products in the wake of health risk concerns and the emergence new concoctions such as Wrigley’s new “Alert” energy gum — each stick of which has as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee.