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Free Market Project

3/7/2006 12:50:14 AM

Updated 02/24/06

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A Load of Red Bull 
New York Times hits energy drink makers as profiting from ‘addiction.’

By Ken Shepherd
Free Market Project

Nov. 23, 2005

Send this page to a friend! (click here)     “Energy Drink Profits May Be Addictive,” warns the subhead of the top story in the November 23 Business Day section of The New York Times. Staff writer Melanie Warner’s focused on critics of energy drinks who argued that soft drink companies have been cashing in on addiction. But one of the experts Warner cites, Dr. Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University, last year told CBS News he is hesitant to describe caffeine dependency as an addiction.

     “Energy drinks have as much sugar and roughly three times the caffeine of soda, and some experts peg their popularity to their addictiveness,” Warner alerted readers, later adding that their detractors “contend that much of the skyrocketing growth of energy drinks comes because consumers are getting physically addicted.”

     Warner then cited Dr. Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University, noting “the amount of caffeine necessary to produce dependency and withdrawal symptoms is about 100 milligrams a day,” but that “a can of energy drink has 80 to 160 milligrams, depending on the size.”

     Dependency and withdrawal, while symptomatic of heavy caffeine use, do not necessarily imply a hopeless addiction, just the need for a change in behavior. “The fact that caffeine produces physical dependence isn't necessarily grounds in and of itself to quit,” Griffiths told CBS News in September 2004. "But if you want to,” the Hopkins professor added, “the best way is with a gradual withdrawal — just slowly change the proportion of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee until you're only drinking decaf.”

     Additionally, addiction specialist Dr. John Hughes told CBS News in the September 2004 report, "I'm hesitant to even call caffeine an ‘addiction,’ because addiction has to do with the inability to stop or control” one’s behavior.

     Another curious item from Warner’s report was her reliance on the humorous and not-too-scholarly, a Web site where you also can calculate how much coffee, soda, energy drink, or other caffeinated beverage you’d have to drink before you’d die from an overdose of caffeine. The Times cited that web page as a source for a graphic about caffeine content that accompanied her article. A look at the press section shows the Web site has mainly been linked to from blogs and alternative media, including a link from a radio show host who chats with callers about their accounts of witnessing UFOs, ghosts, et cetera.

     In September 2005 the Free Market Project documented how ABC News was similarly playing up caffeine as a gateway drug for children.


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