Students push for age limit on energy drinks

NAUGATUCK, Conn. (CNN) — In Connecticut, you may soon have to be 16 years old to buy an energy drink.

What started as a school science project for a group of middle school students, the idea of an age limit on energy drinks quickly got the attention of a lawmaker, as well as people around the country who blame the drinks for the death of a loved one.

“I will never ever consume an energy drink, and I want other children to feel the same way that I do about them,” said Lily Kiernan, a seventh grader at City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck.

Kiernan is among the group of students who researched the effects of the drinks. Part of the group’s project was to also lobby a lawmaker.

Last year, it resulted in a bill before the children’s committee. This year, the bill is back.

“It really took on a life of its own that we didn’t even anticipate would happen,” said Katrina Spina, a teacher at City Hill Middle School.

Energy drink companies say they are being unfairly targeted, and that their drinks are safe.

Joseph Luppino, a lobbyist for Red Bull North America, said in written testimony “simply put, energy drinks are safe. They are no different than coffee, tea, sodas, or other caffeine containing conventional food products.”

Luppino testified that energy drink companies have regulated themselves, including labels that identify ingredients, and state products are not intended for kids. The industry also doesn’t market to anyone 12 and under or in schools.

However, Loretta Lowe from Tennessee said a medical examiner determined energy drinks caused her otherwise healthy son to have a heart attack at 31.

“If it can kill a grown man like my son, that was perfectly healthy, who didn’t even smoke cigarettes, then what can it do a kid,” Lowe said.

Energy drink companies point out their products have roughly 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8 ounces. Coffee can vary, but Starbucks says its Pike Place roast has 155 milligrams.

The students warn it’s the combination of caffeine and other stimulants that is dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, energy drinks can cause dehydration, heart complications, anxiety and insomnia.

In a statement, the American Beverage Association said, “Energy drinks have been enjoyed by millions of people worldwide for more than 30 years and are recognized as safe for consumption by government food safety agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, and the European Food Safety Authority. Additionally, mainstream energy drinks typically contain half the caffeine found in coffeehouse coffees. Independent scientific research shows adolescents get most of their caffeine from coffee and other sources, not energy drinks; however, energy drink companies have proactively and voluntarily committed to not market their products to children.”

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