The confrontation pitting a Connecticut nutritionist (backed by several members of Congress) against the multi-billion-dollar maker of Monster Energy drinks is continuing with no sign that either side is backing down.
Monster Beverage threatened earlier this month to sue Dr. Deb Kennedy over a newsletter she sends out to more than 250 schools across the nation warning children to never drink high-caffeine energy drinks and emphasizing the point with a skull and crossbones.
Kennedy told a Hartford news conference Wednesday she isn’t sorry she used the poison symbol and that her reaction to the company’s lawsuit threat was simple: “I was like, bring it on,” she said. “You want to air your dirty laundry? Let’s do it.”
According to Kennedy, states ought to bar minors from buying energy drinks, and that there is increasing scientific evidence linking energy drinks like Monster’s to the deaths of adolescents and others.
In a letter sent this week to U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Kennedy’s other congressional allies, a lawyer for Monster Beverage warned that the Guilford-based nutritionist had better not keep saying energy drinks kill kids.
“Monster does not wish to take any action against Dr. Kennedy,” the letter from the company’s lawyer read in part. “However, if Dr. Kennedy continues to make further false statements in the media – including on television, websites or newsletters – that energy drinks have killed children, Monster will have to reconsider its position.”
The letter also insisted that Monster has always recommended against children consuming its high-caffeine drinks, and that all its labels read that way.
At the Hartford news conference with Kennedy, Blumenthal argued that Monster owes Kennedy an apology and should explain to Congress and the public why its ads appear to be pitched to adolescents and kids.
Blumenthal called it “unconscionable and reprehensible” for Monster to have threatened to take Kennedy to court over her warnings to parents and children over the dangers of energy drinks.
He also questioned why Monster, if it’s never wanted children to use its products, is so upset about Kennedy warning kids never to drink the stuff. And he wondered why Monster and other energy drink companies appear to be marketing their products toward teens by using celebrity spokesmen like young snowboarders.
Kennedy and Blumenthal also made a big distinction between energy drinks like Monster’s and regular coffee, which often has equivalent amounts of caffeine.
Coffee companies are not claiming that their product will “make you bigger, better, faster and stronger” the way the energy companies are promoting their drinks, Blumenthal insisted.
Kennedy pointed out that energy drinks like Monster Energy, Red Bull, Rock Star and others often have other herbal stimulants in addition to high caffeine and said the combination could be more harmful.
Asked if what energy drink companies are doing now is similar to past efforts by tobacco companies to market cigarettes to kids and teens, Blumenthal replied: “I’ve avoided comparisons, but if the shoe fits…”
Blumenthal and several of his congressional colleagues have written to Monster and other energy drink companies asking them to explain their advertising policies.
Monster Beverage officials have failed to respond to requests for comment on their confrontation with Kennedy.