Connecticut seeks to ban energy drink sales to children once again, amid caffeine content concerns

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - 	SolStock
Image Credit: Getty Images - SolStock

Related tags Energy drink Caffeine ban

Connecticut lawmakers once again seek to ban the sale of energy drinks to consumers younger than 16 years, as regulators and researchers raise concerns about the negative health impact of caffeine.

On March 5, the Connecticut Committee on Children proposed Connecticut House Bill 5261​, which would prohibit the sale of energy drinks containing more than 80mg of caffeine per nine fluid ounces and containing B vitamins, methylxanthines, one or more herbal ingredients, or energy blends to anyone younger than 16 years. 

Retailers and establishments found in violation of the law would receive a warning on the first offense, a fine of no more than $200 for a second offense that occurs no more than two years after the first, and a fine of no more than $350 for subsequent violations that occur no more than two years from the prior offense.

If passed, the law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2025, and would require consumers to present a valid driver’s license or passport to verify their age, the bill stated. The bill is scheduled to be considered by the state House and Senate before May 6, 2024. 

Will Connecticut become the first state to restrict energy drink access? 

Connecticut House Bill 5261 follows similar attempts to restrict the sale of energy drinks to children and teenagers. House Bill 5141​ was proposed in 2020, but ultimately didn't pass the chamber. 

While the law would ban the sale of energy drinks to those under 16, "the bill doesn't ban the ingestion of energy drink at any certain age. It's simply the sale, which would make parents able to oversee the ingestion of the drinks for their children," Liz Linehan (D), state representative for the 103rd District and proponent of the bill, shared during Tuesday’s meeting​.  

State Rep. Anne Dauphinais (R) for the 44th district argued against the bill in the same meeting. "These energy drinks actually have less caffeine and less sugar than most of the caffeinated drinks that our children are exposed to,” she stated.  

The Center for Science in the Public Interest​ lists caffeine content for several beverage categories, including coffees, teas, and energy drinks, updated in July 2023 with recent energy numbers. The chart states that caffeinated Starbucks and Dunkin products contain anywhere from 80-410mg; Celsius and PRIME Energy contain 200mg per 12oz can; and Monster Energy, Nos, Rockstar Energy, and Venom Energy contain 160mg per 16oz can. 

The American Beverage Association responds to ban

The American Beverage Association​ — which represents some of the leading energy drink manufacturers — defended the safety of energy drink and its members' commitment to informing consumers on the proper use of the products.

“Energy drinks have been enjoyed by billions of people around the world for more than 30 years and are recognized by government food safety agencies worldwide, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, and the European Food Safety Authority, as safe for consumption. A mainstream energy drink contains 80mg of caffeine per 8oz – which is about half the caffeine found in the same amount of coffeehouse coffee,” said William Dermody, VP of media and public affairs for the ABA, on behalf of the organization.

ABA members who manufacture energy drinks adhere to the ABA Guidance for the Responsible Labeling and Marketing of Energy Drinks​, which lays out commitments for the production, marketing, and consumption of energy drinks. This includes displaying the total amount of caffeine on the can; making advisory statements for children, pregnant and nursing women, and those sensitive to caffeine; and ensuring labels will not promote the mixing of alcohol with energy drinks or promote excessive consumption. Companies can also not sell or market energy drinks in K-12 schools.

Does caffeine put children at risk? 

While energy drinks are readily available across the US, some consumers and legislators have recently raised concerns about caffeine content in a range of products, including Logan Paul's PRIME energy drink​ and Panera's Charged Lemonade.

In a review of 57 studies between January 2016 to July 2022 published in the February issue of Public Health​, researchers found that "there was growing evidence that [energy-drink] consumption by children and young people is associated with numerous adverse physical and mental health outcomes" and found a "strong positive association between [energy-drink] consumption and smoking, alcohol use, binge drinking, other substance use and the intentions to initiate these behaviors." 

The FDA ​has not set a caffeine level that's safe for children to drink, but the agency suggested that 400mg of caffeine a day — or what is equivalent to four of five cups of coffee — is not generally dangerous to adult human health, though caffeine sensitivity can vary from person to person. 

Consumers that have a small amount of coffee a day, less than two 8oz cups daily, generally feel less tired, and studies have found it can potentially lower the risk of depression and curb appetite, according to the American Heart Association​. However, too much caffeine can raise blood pressure, induce anxiety, and cause problems sleeping, the association added.

A majority of adult consumers are also planning to make no changes to their caffeine consumption habits in the year ahead. In a December 2023 Statista survey of more than 1,300 US consumers​, 71.3% said that they plan to make no changes to their caffeine intake, 10% said they plan to drink somewhat more caffeine, and 1.4% said they would drink significantly more caffeine. Additionally, 11% of consumers said that they are planning to drink somewhat less caffeine and 6.3% said they will drink significantly less caffeine in 2024.

'A white space in the market for a caffeine range of 30-100mg' 

While politicians debate the bill, many CPG brands are experimenting with caffeine levels in new product formats, and others are using functional ingredients to provide an alternative to traditional energy drinks or coffee, Ilana Orlofsky, senior manager of customer experience for beverage development and flavor company Imbibe, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“We see an evolution in the market to deliver energy sans caffeine, though not all products are positioned as solely energy drinks — or energy drinks at all — but may offer a general improved experience.” 

Functional ingredients like ashwagandha, ginseng, and L-theanine help consumers "achieve mental clarity, or focus, which is a close cousin of energy” and can be found in products like Moment​ and other functional beverages, Orlofsky said. Additionally, nootropic beverage brand KOWA Mood Boost​ contains 5-HTP, ashwagandha, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and Rhodiola rosea, which helps "consumers achieve balance, which again, feels like another side of the energy coin," she added.  

Imbibe also sees an opportunity for beverages with slightly lower amounts of caffeine, Orlofsky noted. 

“Internally, we’ve been asked to work on half-caffeine formulations for the past several years as we, alongside the brands we work with, have identified a white space in the market for a caffeine range of 30-100mg. Most traditional soda does fall into this category, but because it’s not front and center, there’s a huge opportunity for differentiation by calling out the caffeine content, especially if it’s a low enough dosage that consumers can experience a product multiple times a day.” 

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