LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — Maryland Attorney Kevin Goldberg has two daughters, ages 8 and 4, and he’s very uncomfortable with the fact that either of them could walk into a convenience store and legally purchase an energy drink.
Goldberg represents the family of Anais Fournier, a 14-year-old Hagerstown girl who died in Dec. 2011 after drinking two 24-ounce Monster brand energy beverages in a 24-hour period.
Anais’s parents have an ongoing lawsuit against the drink company, and Goldberg is now working to help pass a bill that would make Maryland the first state to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors.
The Maryland Medical Examiner determined that Anais died from a cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity. Goldberg says Anais did have a minor heart condition for which she saw a cardiologist once a year, but she was never told to avoid caffeine.
A lawyer for Monster Beverage said in 2013 that physicians and a coroner “retained” by the company found that “there is no medical, scientific or factual evidence” to support the medical examiner’s report, or that Anais’s consumption of the drinks contributed to her death.
The company has repeatedly said they are confident their energy drinks are safe.
Goldberg says he worries that children are “subjected to the marketing of the energy drink companies and keep drinking them into adulthood.”
He believes the beverages are “extremely dangerous for anyone with an underlying heart condition,” and says those types of medical issues are often undiagnosed until adulthood.
That’s why he drafted House Bill 1273 and asked Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County) to sponsor it.
A hearing for the bill was introduced in Maryland’s General Assembly on March 6.
Goldberg says there seems to be a lot of support for the legislation from medical professionals and lawmakers, but it faces opposition from some, including the American Beverage Association.
“Our industry appreciated the opportunity to continue to educate policymakers about the facts about energy drinks,” says Ellen Valentino, the Maryland representative for the ABA who was present at the hearing.
“For example, contrary to common perception, energy drinks contain significantly less caffeine than a similarly-sized coffeehouse coffee – many only about half as much. Public policy should be based on facts and science, and this is based on neither. The loss of life is tragic, but legislation should not be driven by pending litigation.”
The ABA is correct in saying that energy drinks contain less caffeine than a coffee house brew — a grande coffee from Starbucks has about 330 mg of caffeine while a 16-ounce Monster beverage has about 160 mg.
But a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, by comparison, only has about 34 mg, significantly less than Monster, Goldberg says.
He also believes that “synthetic” caffeine is more dangerous than the naturally occurring stuff in coffee beans, and that additional ingredients like taurine, have a dangerous “synergistic effect” with caffeine.
The bill he drafted defines “energy drink” as a beverage, an energy shot, or a powdered drink mix that contains 71 milligrams or more of caffeine per 12-ounce serving and the ingredients taurine, guarana, panax ginseng, inositol, or L-Carnitine in any amount.
Furthermore, Goldberg says Monster markets its products to children, even though the labels say “not recommended for children, pregnant women, or people sensitive to caffeine.”
Monster has said its target market is 18 to 34-year-olds.
Nevertheless, prosecutors from the State of New York and San Francisco have teamed up to probe the company’s marketing tactics.
Goldberg cannot guess what the result of his efforts will be, but the issue is very close to his heart because of his daughters, the Fournier family, and two other clients his firm is representing in wrongful death cases against Monster.
“This is just something I care very deeply about,” he says.
While Maryland would be the first state to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors if HB1273 is passed, a Los Angeles City Council member filed a similar motion in January.