Makers of the nation's top-selling energy shot, 5-Hour Energy, have been found guilty of violating Washington’s consumer protection laws. A Washington court has required the manufacturer, Living Essentials LLC, to pay $4.3 million in penalties for misleading advertising.
In July 2014, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Living Essentials LLC. The lawsuit revolved around the company’s marketing of its 5-Hour Energy shot.
Living Essentials LLC advertised the 5-Hour Energy shot as a doctor-recommended product, superior to traditional caffeine without a crash.
The advertisements asserted that “combination of caffeine, B vitamins and amino acids would provide energy that would last longer than consumers would experience from a cup of premium coffee" (and in some of the ads, longer than 3 or 4 cups of coffee).
Though caffeine is a main ingredient in the formula, the decaffeinated version of 5-Hour Energy also contains taurine. Taurine can provide the benefits similar to caffeine, but one energy shot does not contain enough to promote the advertised effects.
Studies show the caffeine and taurine, presented as working in tandem to produce longer-lasting effects, may actually offset each other’s benefits.
“The studies do not clearly establish that 5-Hour Energy’s vitamins and nutrients work synergistically with caffeine to make these benefits last longer than they would last with caffeine alone,” according to the judge’s ruling.
The lawsuit also found the company guilty of using misleading questions to procure doctor recommendations for its product. The “Ask Your Doctor” campaign made it appear as though doctors recommended the beverage, when they were actually recommending it over a comparatively unhealthy competitor.
Since July 2012, the “Ask Your Doctor” ads aired on television 19,716 times in Washington. The airing of each ad is $100 in violation fees, making the ads penalty $1.9716 million. Other ads aired 2,000 times and resulted in a $200,000 penalties. Additional fees are included for the number of bottles sold, and to cover state attorney costs.
Living Essentials LLC, which actually won a similar case brought in Oregon, intends to appeal the Washington ruling. Despite the guilty verdict, customers will not receive restitution.