It’s been a bad PR year for energy drinks. Around this time last year, amped-up beverage Monster was tied to five deaths in the US, and Five Hour Energy was cited by the FDA as being involved in 13. Now, Red Bull has found itself on the receiving end of an $85 million wrongful death lawsuit.
The suit was filed by the family of a 33-year-old Brooklyn man who collapsed while playing basketball after drinking Red Bull in 2011. He died of a heart attack, and the medics who arrived at the scene pointed to his consumption of the energy drink in their report. The man’s family says that he was otherwise healthy, and believe the beverage to be the cause of his untimely death.
According to AdAge, a Red Bull spokeswoman declined to comment on the case, but did spare a moment to point out that Red Bull is available in more than 165 countries because health authorities have concluded it is safe to consume, and added that about 35 billion cans have been consumed since Red Bull was created more than 25 years ago.
The thing is, health authorities are not, in fact, so secure in the assertion that such drinks are safe; congress is considering tighter regulations on the industry in light of recent links to health problems and sudden deaths, senators have called on energy drink makers to stop marketing to children and selling products in K-12 schools, and last month the American Academy of Family Physicians opposed the sampling of “stimulant drinks” to children under 18. The organization also said it plans to advocate for a ban on “stimulant drinks” for those under 18.
Many energy drink brands dropped their much-contested “dietary supplement” labels last spring and began referring to their products as “beverages”, which resulted a shift in regulations — some stricter, some more lenient. Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar Energy, as members of the American Beverage Association, now adhere to that group’s policies, which call for “responsible labeling and marketing.” Members do not market their products to children under the age of 12 or distribute products to K-12 schools. However, the labeling shift also means that these brands no longer have an obligation to inform the FDA when someone draws a link between the “beverages” and adverse health effects.
The lawyer who filed the lawsuit against Red Bull on behalf of the deceased man’s family, Ilya Novofastovsky, said she hopes that the lawsuit will bring even more attention to energy drinks at a time when many companies are adding caffeine, taurine, and other poorly-regulated stimulants to their foods and drinks.
“[The ingredients] are more dangerous than what Red Bull lets on,” said Novofastovsky.
Considering that emergency room visits caused by energy drinks more than doubled in the past five years, it seems she may have a point.