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The Drink Dope

 

A lawsuit has been filed against a manufacturer of ‘energy’ drinks. The suit is the result of injury (and death) of children after consuming the caffeine-laced beverage. It is logical to assume that this will be the start of regulation. To the average non-Red Bull, Cocaine(!),Monster, 5-Hour Energy, Rock Star, consumer this would seem pretty intuitive. Caffeine is a drug; a legal drug that has evaded regulation in this country. Nicotine used to enjoy that kind of status as well. Cigarettes were available for sale (or given away for free) any and everywhere. Cigarette machines eventually had little adhesive labels declaring cigarette sales being intended for people over age 18. What teenager doesn’t tremble and back away from an adhesive label? Cigarettes haven’t (slowly) shied from the teen market because of the hazards of the drug nicotine, but of the smoke inhalation. But it still makes for a plausible template.

A beverage whose very intention is to alter the body chemistry is not appropriate for children. On a good day most of us would concur with this. But we would also agree that regulating anything is just a giant pain in the behind. The beverage industry is no doubt gearing up for a fight as we speak. They will counter with examples of unregulated sources of caffeine. Charts and graphs will be exhibited declaring chocolate milk as laden with as much of the drug as a grande macchiato. Gatorade and vitamin-laced waters will enter into the arguments. Coffee carts will form a single-file demonstration. In short, a circus will ensue.

Let us assume (for the sake of all that’s decent) that parents are not purchasing caffeine-laced drinks for their children. What would be more effective (and less hair raising) than outlawing sales to children is to outlaw marketing of drug products to children. Children aren’t buying caffeine delivery beverages because they thought of it on their own. They buy them to look cool and be like their friends who buy them to look cool and be like the advertisement. Of course they’ll never admit this. Don’t believe me? Go to a school right now and ask the guzzlers why they’re guzzling. “Gotta wake up” “Gotta test” They believe they need the effects of the beverage. Do we really want our kids believing they need drugs to get through the day?

Death and serious illness/injury from caffeine is probably rare. But this lawsuit speaks to something more universal. There is no reason in the world to train children to use drugs to improve their performance. Their bodies and minds are still developing. Soon enough they will be fully grown and can make informed decisions.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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It’s (not) The Real Thing

Prohibiting the sale of items for “my own protection” is so routine as to rarely garner notice.  The only times a ban becomes news is when a news conference is called.  Diet pills and aids slip off store shelves and magazine adverts disappear without our notice.  Items previously available in aisles become sequestered behind a counter.  Bottles of saccharine were pulled off lunch counters decades ago.  The lead amounts in what we smoke and what we use to fill our tanks change.  Shoe stores no longer purchase x-ray machines for children’s feet and ob/gyn haven’t purchased machines to x-ray growing fetuses in quite some time.

Standards of practice evolve, as does our orientation to products.  Limiting what can be sold as a food item is not a bad idea for a culture with a toxic relationship with processed foods.  Forcing the processed food industry to take responsibility for the bad habits they’ve helped foster is not such a bad tactic.

Mayor Bloomberg is proposing a big gulp ban in NYC.  Sugared drinks would be limited according to size.  A sweetened coffee could not be larger than 16 ounces.  Movie theaters could not sell soda in extra large cups.  Newstands could sell large sweetened drinks, but food establishments could not.  The loopholes and complexities in such a plan are a bit challenging.  Enforcing this law in any meaningful way will be a bear.  And what does it actually accomplish?  People might now feel forced to buy the more expensive (per serving) sizes, perhaps in multiples.  There will be an increase in waste and expenditure.  Soon a big gulp black market will crop up.  People will buy bottles in bulk and decant into large containers for resale.  Forcing people to buy more of something is not a good prevention tactic.

What if we were to tax non-food items the way we do cigarettes and alcohol?  A “fortified” water, soda or sport drink for $10 is not as appealing as water.  The beverage market will take a direct hit and people will drink less sugar water.  Surely this has occurred to a few people in city hall.  So what’s the problem?  Why develop a complicated system, difficult to enforce and with limited efficacy?  Why turn down potential tax revenue?  Could there have been a compromise reached between the very vocal beverage industry and the mayor’s office?

If we are serious about keeping super-sized calorie laden and nutritionally free substances out of the mouths of Americans, then we should do so.  If we want to look as if we are doing something without actually making a difference I suppose the War on the Big Gulp is the way to go.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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