Red Bull Takes Flight Across Campus

As exam season nears, Butler degenerates into a wasteland of studying debris. Students slump over desks littered with textbooks, laptops, drained cardboard coffee cups, and increasingly omnipresent slender cans of Red Bull.

In addition to the campus eateries like Cafe 212, Uris, Dodge, and Butler, which all stock the high-powered energy drink, vending machines were installed two weeks ago in East Campus, Schapiro, Broadway, and the fourth floor lounge of Ferris Booth to supply students with an around-the-clock caffeine fix.

According to Director of Dining Services Larry Levitas, Red Bull approached Columbia through a vending company contracted by the University to ask if they could install machines around campus.

So far, business has been slow. At $3 a can, the machines are cumulatively selling between 96 and 120 Red Bulls a week. But with campus sales averaging 1,055 cans purchased weekly, those numbers are expected to rise dramatically in the coming months.

“It’s awesome yet depressing,” said Daniel Free, CC ’08, who founded the Facebook group “Red Bull Is Half (or all) the Reason I’m On Dean’s List (or Passing at Least)!” “Obviously Columbia knows how much work they give us and how much pressure we’re under. It’s almost as if they encourage our intake of Red Bull in order [for us] to perform better in classes.”

The Austrian energy drink offers 80 milligrams of caffeine in every 8.3-ounce serving-more then twice the amount found in the larger 12-ounce cans of Coke. Also at work is the additive taurine, an amino acid responsible for speeding up metabolic and digestive processes.

But while the added jolt may help to get the job done, it may also represent a serious health threat.

In Northern Ireland last year, an 18-year-old drank three cans of Red Bull, competed in a basketball tournament, then died later that day. Three more deaths in Sweden have been linked to Red Bull consumption, either in conjunction with alcohol or strenuous exercise.

But for students intent on buckling down on schoolwork, the need for an occasional energy drink takes precedence over health concerns.

“Usually I am too worried about the paper due in four hours or the exam I have to take and do well on-more than the effects of caffeine,” said Free, who admits to having consumed five cans of Red Bull in one night.

“Red Bull is just like alcohol,” said Ali Raza, CC ’09. “You don’t want to build up your tolerance; you want to make sure that a small amount will still work.”

It seems, however, that Red Bull intake is anything but low. Last year, American consumers bought 700 million of the silver and blue cans. Argentina, Denmark, France, and Norway have already banned most energy drinks from the market because of the drink’s possible hazards.

Yudi Jin, SEAS ’09, once participated in a Red Bull contest in which he drank four cans in under 10 minutes. “I was twitching on the ground,” Jin said. “My heart skipped for a really long time.”

A study conducted by England’s Food Safety Promotion Board warns that energy drinks are unsuitable for teenagers because caffeine intake can increase anxiety in addition to causing long-term behavioral problems.

“If it were proven that there are health concerns, we would definitely pull [Red Bull] and not sell it,” said Levitas. “We’d be irresponsible if we didn’t do that. It’s a tough call. But for right now, this is what students want, and if we don’t have it, they’ll just bring it in from the outside.”