Earlier this month, the Suffolk County Health Board proposed an age limit on energy drinks sold in the county. More specifically, the ban would prevent teenagers under the age of 18 from buying drinks like Monster, Red Bull, and 5 Hour Energy. Legislators justify the ban by citing the detrimental consequences on teens, such as increasing heart rate and debilitated mental functioning. On the other hand, beverage companies argue that the ban is arbitrary and overly invasive. Parents, they say, should decide their children’s eating choices, not government.
Like NYC’s soda ban, the concept surrounding the legislation is a step forward. The support for it makes it perhaps even more powerful than the New York City ban— several local retailers already expressed support by vowing to refuse the sale of energy drinks to those under the age of 19, even if struck down. And who can blame them? Regulations on products sold to children act as an appropriate counter to the misleading advertising that pervades the media from every level. Children find advertising for these drinks on TV, billboards, and perhaps even in school sponsorships.
Some of these advertisements are extremely misleading. Take for example, the commercial used to advertise for 5 hour energy (see below). To the uncritical viewer, the commercial suggests that the drink is doctor approved, when it really only tells us that those doctors agree that if you’re going to consume energy drinks, it is better to consume one that has fewer calories. The commercial then connects that finding to its own statement that 5 hour energy is 4 calories, misleading viewers into believing that doctors recommend 5 hour energy. If the wording makes your brain go in circles, imagine what it does for a 16 year old! Studies have shown that adolescents even at the high school age have difficulty recognizing the persuasive element of advertising, especially when cloaked in the guise of public service announcements.
In the face of such deceptive advertising, it seems natural that this ban would receive so much support. Not only would it better the health of young children and adolescents, but it also would place decision-making authority out of the hands of advertisers and into the hands of parents.