In Feb. 7-13 issue
By Derek Aaron
Times Journal Reporte
RUSSELL SPRINGS - Since the mid-1990s, energy drinks have become a standard in convenient and grocery stores across the nation.
But a newly-proposed bill in the Kentucky House of Representatives would block the sale of these highly caffeinated drinks to teens under 18 years of age.
House Bill 374 was proposed last week by State Rep. Danny Ford, a Republican from Mt. Vernon, who has publicly voiced his concern for the amount of caffeine in the drinks, sometimes equivalent to three cups of coffee.
State Senator Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs, said he hasn't yet seen the bill and is not opposed to energy drinks when they are labeled correctly.
He did say he was shocked when he read about the content of some energy drinks several months ago, some even with undocumented alcohol content.
"Some of the 18-ounce energy drinks have more alcohol in them than a beer," he said.
"They (soft drink companies) are not required to properly label these things to where you know what's in there."
McGaha said that one energy drink, which he did not specifically name, was extremely potent.
"If you drink an 18-ounce can of that energy drink you are consuming more alcohol than you do if you drunk a can of beer," he said.
"That's the thrust for this bill," McGaha said. "It's not the drink itself but it's what the companies are hiding in these drinks."
"There is a good reason for this bill and it needs to be addressed," he said.
These types of drinks, with names like No Fear, Monster, Adrenaline Rush and Amp (none of which contain alcohol), are soft drinks marketed to the 18-30 age group as being able to supply more energy, via caffeine and possibly other ingredients like guarana, taurine, ginseng, maltodextrin, inositol, carnitine, creatine and glucuronolactone.
Ford's bill specifically takes aim at energy drinks and defines an energy drink as "a carbonated beverage that exceeds a caffeine content of 71 milligrams per 12 oz. serving and contains taurine and glucuronolactone."
The bill doesn't cover juice-based energy drinks or energy drinks without taurine or glucuronolactone.
Michelle Copley, an 18-year-old senior at Russell County High School and a member of the Lady Laker basketball team said she doesn't drink the highly caffeinated beverages but has heard of some negative side effects they have had on some of her fellow students.
"I've heard of some people talk about mixing them with other things and it having a negative effect," she said. "Like making them sick."
Copley said she believed the proposed bill would be a good idea for the safety of high school-aged people.
On the other hand, Russell County High School student Codey Bell, 16, said he drinks energy drinks "all the time."
"I think they're not that healthy for you, but I think at the age of 16 it's your choice and you know what you're putting into your body by then," he said.
Bell, also a football player at the high school, said he likes Xyience energy drink best.
"It has no sugar or anything in it, it has no calories and I think its one of the best ones out right now," he said.
He said that some drinks did give him a boost while others just give a sugar rush before your body "crashes."
"I like the taste of them, too," he said. "There are all kinds of different flavors."
The appearances of the drink cans are also a big factor in drawing in high schoolers to purchase them.
"Some cans have so much drawing and stuff on there its kind of like graffiti-style," he said.
The advertisements for these drinks are marketed toward a younger audience as well, with several commercials during this year's Super Bowl, and Bell took notice.
"They were just hilarious," he said.
Bell said if the bill was made into law he wouldn't be able to buy energy drinks, but that someone would buy them for him, reminiscent of the cigarette and tobacco issue where some adults continue to buy tobacco products for minors.
Angel Roy, the manager at Hwy. 80 Shell in Russell Springs says her store sells "quite a bit" of energy drinks to people "20-35" years of age.
Roy, whose store sells about 10 different kinds of energy drinks, said the best time to sell energy drinks was around lunch when people are looking for that midday pick-me-up.
Kentucky legislators aren't the only ones to cast a legislative eye on energy drink makers. Published reports have documented that California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessments is taking into account forcing companies to label energy drinks as potentially harmful if used in excess.
The countries of Denmark and France banned the popular energy drink Red Bull several years ago. However, a spokeswoman for the British company that makes it said: "Red Bull will continue to be sold in 100 countries worldwide." She added: "No authority in the world has ever discovered or proven an unhealthy effect in or from Red Bull."
According to a search on the Internet, those energy drinks made with alcohol are marketed under the following names: Drink Four, Sparks, 3SUm, Whisbih, Liquid Charge, Tilt, B to the E (Budweiser Energy), Rockstar 21 (or otherwise known as "Rockstar + Vodka" and "Rockstar + Vodka/Pomegranate").