How does the popular energy drink 5-hour Energy give you a boost? The drink boasts that B-vitamins, amino acids, nutrients and caffeine do the trick. And those claims are at the heart of a growing legal case against the energy drink.
Oregon's attorney general sued the drink's two parent companies Thursday, saying the drink really only gives you energy from one ingredient: A concentrated amount of caffeine. "The other ingredients do not provide any of the benefits," the lawsuit claims. Two other states, Washington and Vermont, filed similar lawsuits Thursday, and more states are expected join in.
A spokeswoman for the drink was defiant about the issue, saying that Oregon's attorney general was "grasping at straws."
"When companies are being bullied by someone in a position of power, these companies roll over, pay the ransom, and move on," company spokeswoman Melissa Skabich said in a statement to media outlets. "We're not doing that."
Regulators have been building a case against 5-hour Energy for quite some time. The drink has been mentioned in at least 90 filings with The Food and Drug Administration and is suspected of being linked to 13 deaths over the years. Another energy drink, Monster Energy, has also been suspected of contributing to serious injuries and death.
The founder of 5-hour Energy, billionaire Manoj Bhargava, has never disclosed the exact amounts of caffeine or vitamins in the beverage. In a 2012 interview with CBS News, he said the product is safe and that he drinks it every day.
"I would not sell a product that my family wouldn't use," he said. He added that one bottle of 5-hour Energy contains as much caffeine as a medium-sized Starbucks coffee. Independent tests from Consumer Reports and the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the drink contains anywhere from 207 to 215 milligrams of caffeine. A tall brewed coffee at Starbucks has about 260 milligrams of caffeine, according to the Caffeine Informer website.
The 5-hour Energy drink comes in a 2-ounce bottle that sells for about $3. The brand now racks up an estimated $1 billion in retail sales a year.
The Oregon lawsuit contains these claims about the drink:
-- It makes misleading statements that its non-caffeine ingredients give people extra energy and alertness.
-- It says people won't "crash" after using it, but about a quarter of consumers did experience a crash.
-- It inflated the support of physicians for the product. It wrongly implies that it is appropriate for use by adolescents age 12 and over.
It's too early to know if the state lawsuits will make any meaningful dent in 5-hour Energy sales. The drink gets about 15 percent of its sales from the Wal-Mart checkout aisle, Forbes reports, and so far no retailers have announced plans to pull the product.