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S.C. Bill Would Make It a Crime to Let Teenagers Drink Red Bull

A state legislator says energy drinks pose a deadly threat to minors.

BadSoull / FlickrBadSoull / FlickrDavis Cripe, a student at Spring Hill High School in Chapin, South Carolina, died last year after drinking a Mountain Dew, a McDonald's latte, and an unspecified energy drink. Although the total amount of caffeine he consumed could not possibly have been anywhere near a lethal dose, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts attributed Cripe's death to a "caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia." Now a state legislator, Rep. Leon Howard (D-Richland), wants to ban the sale of Mountain Dew to minors.

Just kidding. Howard wants to ban the sale of coffee to minors.

Still kidding. His actual target, as you might expect based on recent hysteria about the deadly dangers supposedly lurking inside cans of Red Bull, Monster Energy, and Rockstar, is energy drinks. But the other two options would have been equally logical. Which is to say, not logical at all.

If Cripe's death really was caused by ingestion of caffeine in beverages, his reaction was highly idiosyncratic. The State, Columbia's daily newspaper, reports that Cripe's parents "have pledged to see South Carolina ban the sale of the caffeine cocktails that killed their 16-year-old son." But it also notes that Cripe is the only teenager in the United States whose death has been attributed to an energy drink during the last five years.

Data from the Simmons Teen Survey indicate that 31 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds consume energy drinks "regularly." That's about 8 million teenagers in the U.S., consuming at least 400 million cans a year (assuming one can a week) and at least 2 billion over the course of five years. Even assuming Watts' explanation of Cripe's death was correct, the chance that any given can of energy drink will kill a teenager is something like 1 in 2 billion. Anyone who thinks odds like those justify legislation has lost all sense of proportion.

Howard's bill would make it a misdemeanor to "sell, furnish, give, or distribute an energy drink to a minor under the age of eighteen years." Each violation would carry a minimum fine of $50, so if you buy energy drinks and let your 17-year-old son have one a day, you would be on the hook for at least $350 a week, $18,200 a year. If you instead let your kid drink Mountain Dew or coffee, however, you would be in the clear.

How little sense that distinction makes becomes clear when you compare the caffeine content of coffee and energy drinks. Although both vary pretty widely, coffee generally has more caffeine per fluid ounce. The State, as is typical of news outlets trying to alarm people about energy drinks, obscures that point by comparing unusually weak coffee to unusually strong energy drinks.

The newspaper notes that the Food and Drug Administration "recommends adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day," which it equates with "four to five cups of coffee." The implication is that an average cup of coffee contains about 80 milligrams of caffeine. Yet the vast majority of the coffee drinks listed at Caffeine Informer contain more than that amount. That includes the McDonald's latte that Cripe drank, which according to the website contains 142 milligrams of caffeine. A short (eight-ounce) Starbucks coffee has 165 milligrams, twice what The State implies is typical.

The State adds that "energy drinks can contain far more caffeine [than coffee does]—up to 300 milligrams." That's literally true but highly misleading. Just eight of the 413 energy drinks listed by Caffeine Informer—i.e., 2 percent—contain 300 or more milligrams of caffeine. By comparison, 12 of the 143 coffee drinks—8 percent—hit that cutoff, include a grande (16-ounce) Starbucks coffee, which weighs in at 330 milligrams of caffeine, about 20 per fluid ounce. The standard versions of the most popular energy drinks have 10 milligrams of caffeine per ounce, or 80 for an eight-ounce can and 160 for a 16-ounce can.

What all this has to do with Cripe's death is not at all clear. Cripe was 16 and weighed about 200 pounds. A lethal dose of caffeine is estimated to be somewhere between 5 and 10 grams—i.e., between 5,000 and 10,000 milligrams—for an adult. That's at least 30 short cups of Starbucks coffee and more than 60 of the weak stuff they seem to be drinking at The State.

"This is not a caffeine overdose," Watts told Reuters after attributing Cripe's death to caffeine. "We're not saying that it was the total amount of caffeine in the system. It was just the way that it was ingested over that short period of time, and the chugging of the energy drink at the end was what the issue was with the cardiac arrhythmia." But if Cripe had chugged a McDonald's iced coffee (200 milligrams of caffeine) instead of an energy drink (80 or 160 milligrams, probably), would anyone be demanding a ban?

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  • Christophe||

    The State, Columbia's daily newspaper

    Fuck it, we're all living in an Ayn Rand novel.

  • some guy||

    Maybe they mean it like "The State of Things"?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    No, it's an homage to the early '90s comedy troupe.

  • gormadoc||

    Let's remember that most county coroners are not experts in anything; it's an elected position in most places. It doesn't usually require medical expertise but for some reason we act like it confers it.

  • patskelley||

    Running backwards to catch a ball could be lethal if one falls. Ban ball games. Riding a bicycle no hands can be lethal if one hits a bump and falls. Ban bicycles. I heard one kid tripped and fell on a pecan nut which pierced his temple. Ban pecan trees. - on second thought just ban all nuts in office

  • Longtobefree||

    Some kid just got crushed by a minivan; ban all cars

  • some guy||

    If it could save even one life, aren't we morally bound to try it?

  • Curt||

    "on second thought just ban all nuts in office"

    Gloria Steinem approved this message.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    This sounds like a recipe for more prison rape.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Just now looking it up, it appears that per serving the two most popular energy drinks (Rockstar and Monster) have less caffeine than a cup of coffee.

    Though, let's be real, a serving size is 8 oz for an energy drink. They come in 16 oz cans, which means that's actually a serving size. In which case, they have about 60% more caffeine than an 8 oz cup of coffee (which, in my experience is actually smaller than the amount of coffee I drink when I drink coffee).

  • Curt||

    Yeah, at Starbucks, a "grande" is their version of a medium. And that's 16 oz. The "short" size exists and is 8 oz, but that's not even shown on the menu and I don't know that I've ever seen someone order one.

    But, I'm sure that Senator Busybody only drinks 8 oz. cups of coffee.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Yeah, that's like saying the serving size of my ejaculate is one testicle.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    LD50 (the dose that would kill 50% of the people who get it) for Caffeine is estimated at 150 to 200mg per kg of body weight. That comes to 80-100 cups of coffee for the average adult, or 5 to 6.25 gallons.

    https://psychonautwiki.org/wiki/Caffeine

    It takes around 8 hours for the body to materialize a dose of caffeine. You try drinking 6 gallons of anything in under 8 hours. 6 gallons of water in 8 hours would kill you.

  • Devastator||

    I think that caffeine is already materialized when you drink it. Metabolizing it will probably take 8 hours though, maybe.

  • some guy||

    Yet another example of why people experiencing extreme emotions should be ignored when making policy. Doesn't matter if its gun policy, health care policy, drug policy, whatever. Extremely emotional people are inherently irrational. They make for good TV and powerful grandstanding, but are terrible at actually identifying and addressing problems.

    You don't let a murder victim's family sit on the jury for good reason.

  • Longtobefree||

    Anyone who thinks odds like those justify legislation has lost all sense of proportion.

    Anyone who thinks odds like those justify legislation is a democrat.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Riiiiiiiight. Republicans have never relied on absurd odds. You betcha.

    The word you were looking for was 'legislator'.

  • Longtobefree||

    Never tell me the odds.

  • Longtobefree||

    What is the long term impact of banning caffeine?
    I mean, once an office is deprived of caffeine, the productivity drop will be staggering.
    On the other hand, there should be a commensurate drop in stupid ideas.
    Factor in the kind of social interactions that will occur in the absence of caffeine and the resulting impact on the court system, and what do we get?
    So what will be the final result, more or less financial growth?

    Caffeine saves lives.

  • some guy||

    Imagine the growth in road rage and domestic violence. The only thing that might curb the mayhem is the chronic splitting headaches.

  • target||

  • Rossami||

    They still tell stories at my company of the time that the CEO quietly ordered the replacement of all coffee packets at the company-provided coffee makers with only decaf. No announcements - and because they were industrial packaging, no difference in the labels. This was in the days before Starbucks so most folks caffeinated themselves on the company joe. About the third day, there was a massive increase in absenteeism and workers flooded to their doctors' offices convinced that they had debilitating illnesses up to and including brain tumors.

  • Curt||

    Corporate Cronyism at its worst

    "Anyone who thinks odds like those justify legislation has lost all sense of proportion"

    Your Sense of Proportion < My Child's Right to Life

  • Just Say'n||

    "Your Sense of Proportion < My Child's Right to Life"

    Congrats, you're an idiot

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Even if this was true, it doesn't make sense in this context because there is no risk whatsoever of someone out there hunting your child down and forcing energy drinks on him until he dies.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Although, that could be the plot of the next Netflix original.

  • Curt||

    Conservative Hate =/= Intellectual Debate

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Now this fits.

  • Curt||

    Your Legal Analysis is Lazy and Wrong

  • Curt||

    Josh Blackman is not Welcome Here! And neither is the Fed Society.

  • Curt||

    Oops... I may have gotten carried away with trying to copy arguments from the CUNY article.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You certainly ran afoul of Poe's Law. I'm'a let you off with a warning, but try to be more careful next time.

  • Curt||

    Fuck the Law!!!

    *thanks for the setup on that

  • Ship of Theseus||

    Cripes....

  • Tony||

    So I unaddicted myself from caffeine because as I drank it nonstop during the week, I often didn't have any at home (I often don't have a lot of groceries at home), and so I'd be incapacitated on weekends. I limited myself to one coffee in the morning per day, and everything reset nicely so that it wasn't required for me to function.

    But I'm also back on my old habit of a big Red Bull (with vodka) for weekends to get a nice speedy buzz going well into the evening. And I started having a Pepsi Max after lunch during the week because work was crazy and I was starting to crave the caffeine buzz again. I'll let you know how it goes.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I think I speak for everyone here when I say it would be interesting to get a blow by blow description of a typical Tony weekend.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    He starts doing amyl poppers at 6pm on Friday, and then he wakes up and it's Monday morning.

  • Tony||

    Typical and most desired is, having done all the errands necessary so that I don't have to leave the house at all over the weekend, I stay in and watch shit on TV, clean things, or play video games. I am often taken out by friends though, but we don't close the bars down like we used to. When I was younger I would feel depressed if I didn't make it out on the weekends. Now I see it as a bit of a chore. If I drive to the next city to see some of my old highschool friends, that's when things get crazier and the blow by blow happens, if you know what I mean.

  • some guy||

    I drank it nonstop during the week, I often didn't have any at home (I often don't have a lot of groceries at home), and so I'd be incapacitated on weekends

    I can't believe you tolerated having your access to caffeine denied. There should be a law guaranteeing free access to caffeine to anyone who needs it.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I gave up caffeine for Lent. And so when I started drinking it again last week I accidentally gave myself a buzz. Was quite a trip since I have been so inundated to caffeine over the years that I barely felt anything before.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Ah, I miss those days. A caffeine high is pretty awesome. It has been years since I felt that.

  • ||

    I'm commenting on Hit & Run in order to buy sex.

    Anybody got a problem with that? I'm asking you, FOSTA/SESTA!

  • Echospinner||

    Sudden cardiac death and arrythmia in young people with no history of heart disease is a rare and recognized event.

    In some cases it is idiosyncratic. No known cause. In others pathology may find an underlying heart defect. Not a link but this small review I found helpful Cardiovascular Research, Volume 50, Issue 2, 1 May 2001, Pages 399–408. They found an underlying heart defect in 76% of cases after pathogy review.

    Caffeine does have a lethal dose as the article stated. The LD50 is derived from studies on rats and then estimated based on dose/Kg body weight. It is self limiting in the vast majority as most of us know. Drinking 60 espresso drinks in a row does not cause a happy experience.

    Bottom line is there are many more common health issues to concentrate on. There is little evidence to back this proposal.

  • DrZ||

    I am all for this if the law is passed in Sillycon Valley. You should see the drivers here; they are all drinking Red Bull and it shows in their driving. Running red lights, using HOV lanes when they should not, high speed weaving in traffic, etc.

    It's gotta be RB - what else?

  • Tionico||

    "have pledged to see South Carolina ban the sale of the caffeine cocktails that killed their 16-year-old son."

    Sorry Mumsie, but those drinks did NOT kill your son. HE killed himself, just as if he'd ridden his bicycle out onto the freeway at rush hour and decided to cross all four lanes, perpendicular to the direction of travel. He was STUPID... and WHOSE fault is that? Did YOU not instruct him in the dangers of binge eating/drinking, of overdosing on legal drugs like caffeine, aspirin, nicotine, Tide pods.......

    If YOU, Father, had TAUGHT your son to comport himself wisely and refuse to be wholly subject to his passion,s who WILL? Just like with guns, one kid does something real stupid (don't like that way of putting it? Grow up and face reality ) and the Nannie Gummit now feels compelled to ban that thing.... whatever happened to personal responsibility? Or wisdom?

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Actually, he may have a point, but what teens, and/or kids, consume should be up to their parents.

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