Nys Ag Takes Aim At Energy Drinks

08.29.12 | Bob Price

New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued subpoenas this summer to the drinks' makers, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn't yet been made public.

Earlier this month, Monster Beverage Corp. disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that an attorney general had sent it a subpoena. The Corona, Calif.-based company didn't reveal which state it was, but the person familiar with the inquiry said it was New York.

The maker of the ubiquitous 5-Hour Energy shots, Living Essentials LLC, disclosed the probe to investors in a recent private report, the person said. The person also said subpoenas were sent to PepsiCo Inc., which makes AMP energy drinks, in the investigation first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The probe is examining how the drinks are made, often loaded with caffeine and sugar, along with what critics say is a mostly useless amount of Vitamin B, and how they are marketed at sports events and sometimes in bars. That can lead to a dizzying combination of alcohol impairment without the sedative effect that slows drinkers down and lets them know they aren't alert enough to drive.

"This has been a slimy sector of the beverage industry almost since the beginning," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's just kind of playing off peoples' presumptions that they provide a benefit."

The amount of caffeine varies widely, from about half a cup of coffee to twice the amount or more of a cup of coffee. But Jacobson notes the danger for the young consumers in particular, who may mistake energy drinks for soda and consume large quantities at once.

The amount of caffeine is strictly limited in soda by the Food and Drug Administration, but energy drinks aren't currently listed as soda; rather, they are in their own new category. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has called on the FDA to investigate the energy drink industry after a 14-year-old girl died after drinking two large energy drinks in a short time. Neither Durbin nor the FDA had immediate comment Tuesday on the New York investigation.

Company officials and Schneiderman spokeswoman Michelle Duffy declined to comment.

The high-priced energy drinks are a small but fast-growing segment of soft drinks.