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Declaring War Against Energy Drinks

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Dennis Herrera, the City of San Francisco's attorney, has just filed a lawsuit against the Monster Beverage Corporation, accusing it of improperly marketing energy drinks to children. According to the lawsuit, Monster's highly-caffeinated drinks can cause severe health problems and cardiac events. As a children's injury attorney in Miami, I predict this is just the beginning of a long legal war against the multibillion-dollar energy drink industry, which includes Monster, Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy Shots.

Previously, Herrera was unsuccessful when he demanded that Monster reduce its caffeine levels and stop direct marketing to minors. Monster refused to make any changes and filed a lawsuit against Herrera, claiming that he was not authorized to make demands about labeling, as those issues fall under FDA's jurisdiction and not a city attorney's. Herrera responded to Monster's suit by filing his own independent lawsuit. Technically, Monster may be correct about the FDA's having federal preemption over food and drug labels; two leading Democratic senators have so far been unable to get the FDA to revamp energy drink warning labels.

The dispute came to a head last fall. Anais Fournier was only 14 years old when she suffered a fatal cardiac arrest after drinking two Monster energy drinks. Her parents sued Monster in October 2012. At the time of the lawsuit, the FDA had already received reports of five deaths and one heart attack associated with the energy drink. The company has formally denied any responsibility for the girl's death -- hiring a forensic medical expert who opined that Anais died from natural causes.

Critics of energy drink lawsuits have said that Monster and 5-Hour Energy have the same caffeine content as the average cup of coffee or even less. This fact ignores one crucial difference: Coffee is generally served piping hot and sipped slowly by an adult in contrast to the average kid chugging an ice-cold Red Bull.

Pediatrics in Review recently reported that energy drinks can cause insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety, and obesity in children. Its lead author, Dr. Kwabena Blankson, an adolescent medical specialist at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, told Health Day that the caffeine levels in energy drinks along with the other artificial ingredients create a dangerous combination for teens. Accordingly, he recommends that doctors and parents counsel teens to avoid energy drinks entirely and seek healthy alternatives like exercise, better nutrition, and sleep.

Mixing Energy Drinks and Alcohol

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that mixing energy drinks and alcohol is very popular among young people because the sugar and caffeine can mute the depressant effects of alcohol. Studies show that people who consume alcohol mixed with an energy drink are three times more likely to binge drink than those who consume alcohol alone. In addition, consumers of alcohol and energy drinks are reported to be more likely to be victims of sexual assault and to drive under the influence.

I hope Governor Scott is watching this battle closely, as Florida's Department of Health needs to implement a strategy to educate parents and teens about the dangers of energy drinks. Today, Florida's Department of Children and Families announced the appointment of its new press secretary, Whitney Ray.

Congratulations, Whitney, and welcome to Tallahassee. Please let me know how we can help you spread the word about this immediate danger to Florida's families and children.