Is the Buzz Around Caffeine Drinks Bull?
Whenever I hear the claims of hyper-caffeinated beverages such as Red Bull, I always think they would sound better if shouted by carnival hucksters. Having whimsically-drawn cartoons saying a drink gives you "wings" just strikes me as a mealy-mouthed euphemism for a drug-induced rush.
Soft drink companies and, what I call "energy drink entrepreneurs," have gotten wise to this and have started to come up with hyperactive names such as "Enviga," "Cocaine," and "Bawls" to go with their products' hyperactive claims.
Hype attracts skeptics, and it was only a matter of time before the truth squading began. Red Bull recently attacked rival Redline, saying its slogan "Feel the Freak / Feel the Freeze / Watch the Fat Drop / Off with Ease!" is, well, bull. Redline returned the favor, saying Red Bull has nothing to back up its claims of improving performance, endurance and concentration.
Now, it's Enviga's turn. Enviga is a carbonated green tea beverage made by Coca-Cola and Nestle that will be sold nationwide starting early next year. A Coca-Cola press release for the drink suggests that downing three cans of Enviga can burn between 60 and 100 calories. The Center for Science in the Public Interest yesterday told Coca-Cola and Nestle it would sue if the companies kept using calorie-burning and weight-loss claims to sell Enviga.
(If you're curious, Coca-Cola said it based its pitch for Enviga on a study that Mouseprint.org recently picked apart.)
The reason beverage companies can get away with such claims is because the drinks themselves fall into a nebulously-regulated category called "functional foods," which are roughly defined as foods that make a health claim beyond basic nutrition. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing its regulation of functional foods, starting with a hearing scheduled for today.
Though FDA officials have maintained that existing food and drug and FTC rules ensure functional foods are "safe and lawful," they say they're willing to hear what consumer groups and others have to say.
My favorite example of super-caffeinated drink marketing doesn't really fall under the category of potentially false advertising, however. It's more like cognitive dissonance with hilarious results.
Here it is, straight from a self-aggrandizing Q&A on the Web site for the energy drink Cocaine:
Other drinks contain high fructose corn syrup. Why not Cocaine? HFCS is not good for you. According to nutritionists your body has a difficult time converting this "sugar". Try to avoid drinks and food with HFCS. ...
There seems to be less crap in your drink than other energy drinks. Why? Because we only put into Cocaine what we thought was needed -- Nothing else.
I can see the billboard now: "Cocaine -- Made with only the finest ingredients."
What do you think the FDA should do? Clip some "wings" perhaps? Spill the beans here.
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