Proposals to ban energy drinks ‘unscientific’, report claims

Credit: Carolyn Franks

Plans to ban the sale of energy drinks to teenagers have been lambasted as “unscientific” and “discriminatory” by a new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

Vox Pop’, written by the IEA’s Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon, found that the plans “unfairly” target teenagers, while there was a “lack of scientific evidence” linking the drinks to negative behaviours.

The report cites the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee which concluded “the current scientific evidence alone is not sufficient to justify a measure as prohibitive as a statutory ban on the sale of energy drinks to children”.

The government’s proposals focus on the levels of sugar and caffeine, but the report argues a ban on energy drinks have no more sugar or caffeine than many drinks which are more commonly consumed and not being considered for a ban.

For example, the report found that even the most sugary energy drinks contain less than Pepsi. Moreover, it found that energy drinks don’t even contain the most caffeine when compared with ever drinks available to teenagers. A venti sized Starbucks Americano, for example, contains 320 milligrams of caffeine compared to 80 milligrams in a can of Red Bull.

While many supermarket chains took the decision to stop selling energy drinks to under 18s, largely in response to publicity-driven campaigns which used phrases like “turning our children into addicts”, the science does not exist to back this up.

The report suggests a ban could be used by such shops to constrain smaller, independent businesses who have benefitted from the voluntary ban and that such rent-seeking should be resisted.

“Banning the sale of energy drinks to minors is not justified by scientific evidence and would be discriminatory and disproportionate. The vast majority of caffeine and sugar consumed by teenagers comes from other products,” said Mr Snowdon.

“The government is not proposing a ban on the sale of drinks which have a higher caffeine or sugar content – and nor should it – so it is hard to see how a ban on one particular type of beverage can be justified.”

“Placing an age restriction on energy drinks would put them in the same category as alcohol and fireworks, products which pose a demonstrable risk to users and those around them.

“As the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee confirmed last year, the evidence of similar risks from energy drinks is sorely lacking.”

However, some believe that such a ban is only the first step in a longer journey. Marty Spargo, from energy drinks information platform, Reize Club, says: “The bans don’t go far enough.”

He added: “16-year-olds are still growing and developing. I think 18 years of age would be more appropriate if we are trying to protect growing teens from the potential harmful effects of caffeine consumption.”