A bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would ban the sale of energy drinks to minors raises so many questions we don't even know where to begin.
But we'll try.
For starters, defining an energy drink as a beverage containing 71 milligrams or more of caffeine in a 12-ounce container doesn't make sense. It's likely the bill's sponsors picked this threshold because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration limits soda makers to 71 milligrams of caffeine.
But some teas and most coffees you can buy off the shelf or at convenience stores, cafes and restaurants already have a higher caffeine content.
Not to pick on Starbucks, but nearly all of its coffee offerings exceed the 71 milligram threshold. A packet of its blended instant coffee (with only 8 fluid ounces) starts at 135 milligrams. Its Espresso has approximately 150 milligrams, ice coffee weighs in at 165 milligrams, and its regular 12-ounce coffee tops out at 260 milligrams for just 12 ounces. Even its Frappuccino in a 9.5 fluid ounce bottle has 90 milligrams of caffeine.
And why stop at coffee? If you brew black tea for three minutes at home, its caffeine level could hit 80 milligrams. Two squirts from a MiO liquid water enhancer will give you 120 milligrams. Even some foods are high in caffeine, such as a one-ounce package of Perky Jerky that has 150 milligrams.
And enforcement would be a nightmare.
Convenience store owners, where the bulk of the energy drinks are sold, would have to put up signs, train their clerks and then begin carding customers trying to make sure they are not underage.
We won't argue that for a minor, or even adults, slugging down a 24-ounce can of Monster Energy with its 240 milligrams of caffeine isn't exactly the best healthy choice one can make. But neither is draining a 20 fluid-ounce cup of Dunkin' Donuts Coffee with Turbo Shot at 436 milligrams -- which is even more potent.
The point of this is that many minors also drink coffee, tea and use liquid water enhancers -- so just where do you draw the line? OK, so let's say Maryland decides to become the first state in the nation to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors. If teenagers want the caffeine jolt they'll simply go to a Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts or a local convenience store to find another alternative that just might pack as much punch, if not more, of caffeine.
The bill is sponsored by Del. Kathleen M Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat, as a result of the December 2011 death of a 14-year-old Hagerstown girl who died shortly after drinking two cans of Monster Energy. A toxicology report determined the girl died from cardiac arrhythmia brought on by toxic levels of caffeine in the day leading up to her death. Dumais said the ban on energy drinks is not an overreach by government since it only would affect minors -- adults can do what they want.
Still, a representative of the beverage industry told The Washington Post earlier this month that the proposed legislation is based more on emotion rather than science. "Contrary to popular perception, energy drinks contain less caffeine than a similarly sized coffee," said Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Beverage Association.
Even the Food and Drug Administration, in its 2012 investigation of energy drinks, found that the main sources of caffeine in American diets are still coffee, tea and soft drinks. Valentino cited a study published this month in the journal Pediatrics that showed that coffee accounts for nearly 24 percent of caffeine consumption among children and teens, compared to just 6 percent from energy drinks.
Eating and drinking anything in excess is generally not good for anyone, but that can also apply to sugary cola, super-sized candy bars and large bags of potato chips -- all of which can be easily purchased by children. And we would agree that drinking excess caffeine isn't healthy either (the FDA says adults can safely consume at least 200 milligrams per day).
But unless state lawmakers want to remove energy drinks from common distribution (along with coffee and most teas) and only allow their purchase at liquor stores then this bill should be killed in the House committee after its hearing later this week.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a can of Monster Energy drink contains 480 milligrams of caffeine.