San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has sent a letter to Monster Beverage CEO Rodney Sacks, asking the company to provide proof that the large dosages of caffeine contained in its popular Monster energy drinks are “completely safe” for consumption by adolescents and adults. Monster Beverage Corp. has come under increased scrutiny following reports last week to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the product may be linked to as many as five deaths since 2009. Herrera issued the letter under provisions of California’s Unfair Competition Law that empowers city attorneys to demand evidence for purportedly fact-based advertising claims.

“Although you claim that Monster Energy drinks are ‘completely safe,’” Herrera writes, “there is increasing evidence that the high caffeine levels in your products are dangerous, particularly for the youth whom you target with your advertising. As numerous scientific studies have concluded, consuming large amounts of caffeine can have serious health consequences, particularly for adolescents. Caffeine increases heart rate [and] blood pressure, and can cause seizures, heart arrhythmias, and, in some cases, death.”

Herrrera references FDA guidelines that state that a healthy adult can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine daily. But for adolescents, the safe level is much lower—no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Monster Beverage Corp. apparently does not disclose caffeine amounts on its products’ labels, but according to a Monster press release, a 16-ounce can of Monster Energy contains 160 mg of caffeine and a 24-ounce can of Monster contains 240 mg of caffeine. “A single 16-ounce can of Monster thus exceeds the daily caffeine limit for teenagers set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. And a single 24-ounce can exceeds that limit by 2.5 times,” writes Herrera. “Because energy drinks like Monster far exceed the safe caffeine levels for adolescents, the American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that energy drinks ‘should never be consumed’ by adolescents.”

Herrera contends that despite these exceedingly high caffeine levels, Monster Beverage Corp. encourages unsafe and irresponsible consumption of Monster Energy products. “Monster’s labeling recommends that individuals consume no more than three 16-ounce cans or two 24-ounce cans per day, which amounts to a total of 48 ounces of Monster per day. But 48 ounces of Monster contains 480 mg of caffeine, nearly five times the caffeine that is safe for adolescents to consume in an entire day, and more than the 400 mg per day the FDA has indicated is safe for healthy adults.”

Rather than warning consumers to exercise constraint or caution, Herrera says that Monster’s marketing states that “bigger is always better” and “you can never get too much of a good thing.” Further, “Monster urges consumers to ‘chug it down,’ or ‘throw [it] back,’ states that its product has a ‘smooth flavor you can really pound down,’ and [claims] that one of its products has ‘the biggest chugger friendly wide mouth we could make.’” Additional information about the wrongful death lawsuit and the FDA investigation appears in Issue 459 and 460 of this Update.