Health Group Issues Warning Over Deceptive "5-hour Energy" Web Ads

Ad Falsely Implies CSPI Believes Product is Safe


The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest is warning consumers not to believe a new web ad for 5-hour Energy—the controversial caffeinated drink under federal scrutiny for its reported role in 13 deaths. The 5-hour Energy ad gives the misleading impression that CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson believes the product is safe, merely because he told a Time magazine reporter that it would be hard to overdose—to death—on caffeine alone.

It is true that it would take a lot of caffeine to kill most people, according to Jacobson. But 5-hour Energy may be doing harm at much lower levels—perhaps causing insomnia, anxiety, reduced fertility, and other problems related to caffeine.

Moreover, besides caffeine (about 215 milligrams), 5-hour Energy contains large doses of B vitamins as well as an "energy blend" that contains chemicals such as citicoline, tyrosine, phenylalanine, taurine, malic acid, glucuronolactone, unspecified natural and artificial flavors, sucralose, potassium sorbate, and sodium benzoate. It is conceivable that interactions between, or contaminants in, the various ingredients could be responsible for illnesses or deaths, says CSPI. Besides being linked to 13 deaths in the last four years, the product has been associated with 30 other serious, life-threatening events, including heart attacks, convulsions, and one spontaneous abortion, according to the New York Times' review of Food and Drug Administration records.

On November 16, CSPI wrote to the FDA expressing concern about the expanded addition of caffeine to foods and beverages, including a new variety of Cracker Jack (called Cracker Jack’D), Kraft's MiO Energy "water enhancer," and others. In fact, one of the concerns expressed in CSPI's letter was the number of deaths linked to 5-hour Energy and other energy drinks.

"[T]he proliferation of caffeinated foods or beverages could lead to troublesome or serious health problems for children and adults who consume those products—especially when they consume multiple products over the day," Jacobson wrote. "That is especially significant in light of the deaths reported in connection with energy drinks, including 5-hour Energy."

CSPI called the use of Jacobson's words in an advertisement a self-serving attempt to imply his and CSPI's endorsement of the safety of the product. Lawyers for CSPI sent a cease and desist letter instructing 5-hour Energy parent company, Farmington Hills, MI-based Living Essentials LLC, to stop using Jacobson's and CSPI's names in its advertisement.

"I advise consumers not to use 5-hour Energy—at least until the FDA gets to the bottom of the heart attacks, convulsions, and deaths that have been reported in connection with the product," Jacobson said. "And I call on the marketer of 5-hour Energy to stop using my name and my organization's name in its misleading advertisement when the company knows that I have grave concerns about 5-hour Energy and other energy drinks."

"This ad campaign is misleading and should be stopped," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said. "The amount of caffeine and other additives in many of these energy drinks is way in excess of what is healthy for children and adolescents. As a result of these concerns, Senator Durbin and I have urged the FDA to investigate these products. Stronger oversight and awareness through warnings and other possible measures are clearly needed."

"The advertising claims made by energy drink makers are particularly disturbing when they are targeted to appeal to younger audiences, especially since the FDA has not substantiated the health claims," said Representative Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Marketing pitches that promise to give customers an 'extra boost' need extra attention, especially if they are being targeted to children and teens. Until we know more about the health impacts of these drinks and until the federal government evaluates their claims, all Americans, particularly younger ones, should be cautious before consuming them."

5-hour Energy is manufactured by Farmington Hills, MI-based Living Essentials LLC.

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