They are all "veterans of the tobacco wars," as Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois put it. Over the years, they have sponsored legislation to ban smoking on airplanes, led efforts to remove depictions of tobacco use in films and successfully sued the tobacco industry for misleading the public about the dangers of smoking.
And at a recent hearing, the trio of Democratic senators — Durbin, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — grilled executives from an industry they said was selling an unhealthy product and an unsafe message to young people.
But the subject of their ire was not tobacco. It was energy drinks — sweetened beverages with large doses of stimulants for quick energy boosts. They have become increasingly popular over the last decade, particularly with high school and college students who often use them to study late into the night.
The hearing was the most notable battle so far in the senators' latest campaign: to limit minors' access to the beverages. Energy drink companies contend the effort is misguided and overstates the health risk of caffeine to teenagers. But Durbin, Markey and Blumenthal are drawing upon their previous fights against the sale and advertising of cigarettes to children under age 18.
They have called upon the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the safety of energy drinks and have urged high school and college sports organizations to educate their athletes on the risks of combining the beverages with physical activity. Now they are focusing their efforts on the industry's marketing techniques, which they claim are targeting young consumers.
At a recent hearing, Markey displayed photos from energy drink companies' Facebook pages that showed children posing with cans of their products at public events. He recalled the efforts of the tobacco industry to attract young smokers to replace older customers who were dying off.
"Hook 'em early, keep 'em for life," he said. "Makes a lot of sense to me as a marketing promotion."
The campaign against energy drinks began early last year after the death of 14-year-old Anais Fournier. The Maryland teenager, who had a malfunctioning valve in her heart, went intocardiac arrest after she apparently consumed two 24-ounce cans of Monster energy drink in a 24-hour period.