The University of New Hampshire's short-lived decision to ban the sale of nonalcoholic energy drinks has created more buzz than the caffeinated beverages themselves.
Within four days of announcing it would ban the sale of Red Bull and three other drinks, UNH, based at Durham, first delayed and then abandoned the plan altogether. The backtracking highlights the drinks' popularity among young adults who use it for both study and play, and the extent to which college administrations have become entangled with the beverages' promotion.
UNH initially said it would stop selling the drinks beginning in January, apparently a first.
The university said the ban would further president Mark Huddleston's goal of making the campus the nation's healthiest by 2020 and cited the dangers of mixing the drinks with alcohol.
But Huddleston issued a statement Thursday saying that there was no clear evidence that the drinks are exacerbating alcohol abuse.
Students weren't happy about the idea of a ban, either, and said it would have done little to curb alcohol problems, since students buy the energy drinks off campus.
Huddleston's statements delaying and then reversing the ban made no mention of input from energy drink manufacturers, though Red Bull said it was working with UNH "to find a resolution."
Officials would not comment on the university's ties to Red Bull or further discuss what led to the ban and its reversal, but the company's promotions have been a big part of students' activities.
UNH also is one of nearly 700 campuses participating in Red Bull's "stash" contest, in which students search for four-packs of the drinks around campus in hopes of winning prizes worth a total of $224,000. Last fall, a Red Bull student "brand manager" at UNH organized a skateboarding competition, with a case of Red Bull given to winners in several categories, according to an article in the student newspaper.
Energy drinks are the fastest growing U.S. beverage market, with sales expected to top $9 billion this year, according to a report published in the medical journal Pediatrics in February.
Hard figures are hard to come by, but those sales skew toward younger consumers, said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. Consumption is heaviest among 18- to 35-year-olds, he said.