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Is Monster Drink Legally or Ethically Responsible for the Death of Young People?

Is Excessive Consumption a Problem of Company Negligence or Personal Choice?

The issue I address in this blog is whether an energy drink that contains caffeine, and the company that created it, should be held liable for deaths that occur after drinking excessive amounts of the product. Is it a matter of negligence on the part of the energy drink company for failing to adequately inform those who consume the product, especially youngsters who are particularly vulnerable, or is a matter of one’s personal responsibility, as with other potentially harmful products (i.e., fast food) to carefully monitor what we put into our bodies, how much of it we consume, and to be an educated consumer about the possible health effects.

Monster Beverage has been sued for allegedly marketing its highly caffeinated Monster Energy Drink to kids, teenagers and young adults. A lawsuit filed by San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera on May 6, 2013, claims the Monster caffeine levels can lead to elevated blood pressure, seizures and cardiac arrest. In October 2012, the parents of 14-year-old Anais Fournier sued Monster after their daughter went into cardiac arrest and died after drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster Energy drink in less than 24 hours.

The Monster Energy drink supposedly contains 240 mg of caffeine, about the equivalent of seven cups of coffee. It also contains other stimulants, including guarana, a natural caffeine-containing plant panax ginseng and taurine. In October 2012, a Consumer Reports investigation found that 27 of the most popular brands of energy drinks in the US contained a different amount of caffeine than was on the label, or did not list the amount of caffeine at all. Monster was at the top of the list with respect to milligrams of caffeine per serving.

The FDA does not require energy drink companies, including Monster, to list the exact amount of caffeine on ingredient labels because the products are regulated as dietary food supplements instead of food. Energy drinks are also sold as nutritional supplements, even though they may not have any nutritional value. Because of this regulation, energy drinks may exceed the FDA-mandated limit of 71 milligrams of caffeine for a 12-ounce soda. As of October 2012, the FDA said it is investigating five deaths and one nonfatal heart attack after people consumed Monster Energy drinks.

The US Drug Abuse Warning Network in 2011 reported a tenfold spike in emergency room visits involving energy drinks. Approximately 70 percent of cases involving teens from ages 12 to 17 going to ER was due to energy drinks itself - without drugs or alcohol. Most hospitalizations are caused by dehydration, heat exhaustion and heart problems. There is also evidence linking the drinks to cancer by frequently over-dosing on folic acid.

A study published by Pediatrics in February 2012 reported that children and teens who consume Monster and other energy drinks are at a heightened risk for: • Caffeine toxicity or poisoning • Dehydration • Heart palpitations • Cardiac arrest • High blood pressure • Death. These dangerous effects are even greater for young people who already have heart problems, mood or behavioral disorders, seizures, or who take certain medications.

Energy drinks are currently the fastest-growing portion of the beverage market. According to Forbes, energy drink sales rose by more than 16 percent last year and Monster was in the lead, with 35 percent of the market. Monster drinks attract teens with their goth-inspired logo and names such as Java Monster, Lo-Carb Monster and Monster Rehab. The drinks are marketed in magazines and on billboards with slogans like “unleash the beast” and “the meanest energy supplement on the planet.” And their banners are prominent at most extreme sports events. Some of the cans ironically tout the product’s “killer buzz…”

San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera is also suing Monster Beverage for marketing its energy drinks to children, saying the products pose severe health risks. "Our allegations in the lawsuits are the same and that's the peoples deaths were caused by these energy drinks and more specifically the defendants failure to warn about the dangers," said Alexander Wheeler, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in both cases.

My view is while Monster may not be legally liable because it is difficult to make a case for causation, which is a key to a finding of negligence, the company has failed the basic test of a safe product: first, do no harm. It is clear that Monster is not a healthy drink and any product that contains caffeine, especially an excessive amount, can be addicting. Moreover, Monster acts in a socially irresponsible way in how they market their product. Watch the video and decide for


I call it socially irresponsible because it shows young people as moronic, and while some may be that way it is not a responsible message to send. Drink responsibly and consumer education would have been.

What about the lack of regulation? On March 19, 2013, a group of doctors, researchers, and public health experts sent a joint letter to the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urging the FDA to make changes to the regulation of energy drinks. In its letter, the group concluded that there is a “robust correlation between the caffeine levels in energy drinks and adverse health and safety consequences,” especially where children, adolescents and young adults are concerned. Furthermore, the group claims that “there is neither sufficient evidence of safety nor a consensus of scientific opinion to conclude that the high levels of added caffeine in energy drinks are safe under the conditions of their intended use.”

We are responsible for allowing ourselves to consume a product that logic dictates can’t be good for your health, especially if consumed in excessive amounts. These days we all need to be educated consumers and think carefully about what we put into our bodies. There is an old expression: You are what you eat!

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 1, 2013