Politicians and their friends in the news media have an unending penchant for stirring up hysteria, and I think a story linked by Drudge earlier is a great example. It seems that a teenage girl with a heart condition managed to ingest more caffeine than her heart could handle, and she died. The fallout has has triggered the usual federal regulators, and fueled a public clamor for regulation. The culprit? A popular energy drink with the scary name of “Monster”:

(Reuters) – The Food and Drug Administration said on Monday that it was investigating reports of five deaths that may be associated with Monster Beverage Corp’s namesake energy drink, and the company’s shares fell more than 14 percent. Monster is also being sued by the family of a 14-year-old Maryland girl with a heart condition who died after drinking two cans of its Monster energy drink in a 24-hour period. Monster said it does not believe its drinks are “in any way responsible” for the girl’s death.

I completely agree with Monster. If someone has a known condition of this type, presumably she should not have been drinking caffeine at all, just as people with certain liver conditions should not drink alcohol. If they do, how does that become the responsibility of the manufacturer? As is typical in these trumped up lawsuits, the parents maintain that Monster failed to warn them:

The family of Anais Fournier sued Monster on Friday for failing to warn about the product’s dangers. The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in Riverside, said that after drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster Energy on consecutive days Fournier went into cardiac arrest. She was placed in an induced coma and died six days later on December 23, 2011. The lawsuit said Fournier died from “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity” that complicated an existing heart valve condition related to a disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. The two drinks together contained 480 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of 14 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola, according to the lawsuit.

While technically correct, that last sentence conveys the misleading impression that two cans of Monster carry a massive dose of caffeine. To an ordinary person, “14 cans of Coke” evokes huge excess. Which it is. Very few people would drink that much Coca Cola. And if they did, they’d be full of sugar and full of fluid, but they would have consumed about as much caffeine as that which is typically found in 3-4 cups of ordinary drip coffee. Drip coffee contains 115–175 milligrams of caffeine per cup — roughly the same as a 16 ounce can of Monster energy drink, which contains 160 millligrams. In fact, if we assume that the girl was killed by two 24 ounce cans of the Monster drink, she would have been just as likely to have been killed by having two tall-sized cups of Starbucks brewed coffee (each of which contains 260 milligrams of caffeine. The next two largest sizes — Grande and Venti — each contain 330 and 415 milligrams respectively.)

Caffeine in any form is a known danger for people with the type of heart valve disease the girl is reported to have had. So whose fault is that? I see this is just another excuse to create scary headlines and blame another evil company for something that is the responsibility of the individual (and in this case, her parents).

Of course, it’s Halloween season, and the Monster name conjures up demons.

It’s a lot scarier than a headline reading “Girl dies from drinking the equivalent of two cups of coffee.”