Petition calls for ban on energy drinks to children
The Australian Parliament has received a petition calling for a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children under 18 years of age. The signatories are 13,600 members and supporters of the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales.
The move has reignited a community debate between community and health groups on the one side and the beverage industry on the other.
The Country Women’s Association (CWA) is the largest women’s organisation in Australia and aims to improve conditions for country women and children. There are currently 395 branches across the State of New South Wales.
“Energy drinks contain high amounts of caffeine mixed with ingredients like taurine, guarana, glucuronolactone and ginseng, which elevate the heart rate and blood pressure and disrupt sleep,” said Tanya Cameron, President of the CWA of NSW.
“To children this is dangerous, especially when these beverages can be purchased practically anywhere with no limit as to how many can be bought at one time,” Ms Cameron said.
The CWA of NSW said the average energy drink contains 160-300mg of caffeine per 500mL serve, where coffee has 80-160mg and tea 40-120mg for an equivalent quantity.
“The higher rate of caffeine found in most energy drinks can cause insomnia, headache, rapid heart rate, nervousness, hypertension, anxiety and diarrhoea, not to mention developing a dependence on caffeine,” Ms Cameron said. “Who knows what damage, over time, this causes a developing body and mind?” she said.
“Research has shown that the sale of energy drinks is growing by more than eight per cent a year,” Ms Cameron said. “Last year they made up more than 35 per cent of all drinks sold in convenience stores, outdoing soft drinks, which came in at 31.5 per cent,” she said.
“Interestingly, the Food Standards Code limits caffeine in soft drinks to a maximum of 145 milligrams/kg and our advice is that the industry has committed to no ‘direct marketing and advertising of energy drinks to children’ but they are sold on the same shelves, from the same outlets with no restrictions,” Ms Cameron said.
“We protect our children from alcohol and tobacco and believe that energy drinks should also be included on this list,” said Ms Cameron.
Proposal supported by Australian Medical Association
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is supporting the CWA petition proposal saying that the increase in the number of incidents of caffeine toxicity from energy drink consumption among adolescents was “alarming”.
“We are very concerned about the number of teenagers being adversely affected by energy drinks,” said Dr Steve Hambleton, President of the AMA. “The dangers of over-consumption are significant and I think many parents and teenagers are unaware of the risks,” he said.
The AMA said studies had shown that young teenagers who frequently consumed energy drinks on their way to school were more disruptive in class, had poor concentration and that some had been admitted to hospital suffering heart palpitations.
The petition was presented to the House of Representatives by the Federal Member for Parkes, Mr Mark Coulton.
“In my experience, the CWA has a good understanding of issues that are important in the community,” Mr Coulton said. “The CWA serves a valuable role in facilitating and communicating these concerns,” he said.
Australian Beverages Council defends energy drinks
The Australian Beverages Council has responded to the publicity surrounding the petition, saying the call for a ban is ‘without evidence’.
“Calls for a ban on energy drinks are misguided and lacking evidence,” said Geoff Parker, Australian Beverages Council CEO. “The beverage industry already follows a strict policy to only market energy drinks to adults,” he said.
“Aside from this, government data released as part of a broad ranging review into caffeine paints a clear picture of where teenagers get their caffeine from,” Mr Parker said. “Just 3.8 per cent of their total caffeine intake is from energy drinks,” he said.
“The caffeine this age group gets from coffee is nearly ten times that from energy drinks, at 32 per cent,” Mr Parker said. “Chocolate, flavoured milk, tea and other drinks all contributed 56 per cent of caffeine in the diet for 14 to 16 year olds and other foods made up the remaining 6 per cent of caffeine intake,” he said.
The Australian Beverage Council points out that by law, energy drinks are required to be labelled that they are not suitable for children and that no more than two per day should be consumed by adults.
The Australian Beverages Council said the drinks industry has committed to the following guidelines:
Energy drinks are not made available in primary or secondary schools
Marketing and advertising activities of energy drinks are not directed at children
No promotional activities are undertaken that encourage excessive consumption of energy drinks
Labels of energy drinks do not promote the mixing of energy drinks with any other beverage
“Australia’s strict regulations, in addition to the cap on the caffeine content, equivalent to an instant cup of coffee for a 250mL can (80mg), make our energy drink regulations the toughest in the world,” Mr Parker said.
The ongoing debate about energy drinks
In May 2013, Australian Food News reported that Australian and New Zealand energy drinks markets were considered ‘unique’, and that volumes of energy drinks sold in the two countries had quadrupled in the past ten years.
This is not the first time that the Australian Beverages Council has pointed the finger at tea and coffee for concerns about caffeine consumption. Australian Food News reported in September 2013 that the Australian Beverages Council was arguing that coffee and tea were to blame for Australian caffeine concerns, not energy drinks.
The safety of energy drink products has also been of concern globally. Australian Food News reported in January 2014 that global market research organisation Mintel had found that nearly six in ten energy drink consumers in the US worried about the safety of such products.