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PR Nightmare: Teen Deaths Tied to Monster Energy Drink

We never thought an “energy drink” could have a poorer public reception than Four Loko, but Monster appears to have landed in an even deeper ditch—and its products don’t even contain alcohol!

A certain big-deal organization known as the FDA just released a report asserting that as many as five people died over the past three years after drinking Monster. While the report draws no direct, indisputable link between Monster and the tragedies in question, we can all agree that this sort of story is every company’s worst PR nightmare.

The victims, all of whom were teenagers, had a couple of crucial factors in common: each of them drank one or more 24-ounce cans of Monster less than 24 hours before dying of heart failure. The FDA also received multiple reports of consumers experiencing problems like “abdominal pain, vomiting, tremors and abnormal heart rate” after drinking Monster.

Does the drink really pose a risk to the general public? While every can contains 240 milligrams of caffeine, company representatives note that the average 16-ounce cup of coffee contains even more of the potentially damaging stimulant. That point may be irrelevant, though. The case got a lot bigger last week when one of the victims’ mothers responded to her daughter’s death by filing a lawsuit against the publicly traded company; its stock prices (NYSE: MNST) fell accordingly.

The FDA initially hesitated to address the issue, but decided to take action after receiving a letter from Senator Dick Durbin and reviewing medical reports related to a second teenager who died after drinking a can.

How can Monster respond to this horrible story? We don’t see many options other than the bland statements of denial already issued by the company, whose spokesman stated: Monster is “unaware of any fatality anywhere that has been caused by its drinks.” Would an aggressive counter-campaign prove effective? We doubt it. Seems like the company has no real choice but to wait—or make a point of indicating its concern for the victims without implying any sort of culpability.

A final note: “Under current F.D.A. rules, companies are not required to disclose caffeine levels in their beverages and can choose to market them as drinks or as dietary supplements.”

Maybe it’s time to change those rules.

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