Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Energy drinks are next

I neglected to mention the banning of Four Loko when it happened back in November and I now regret it because it looks like it could be the start of another branch of prohibitionary madness.

In short, the FDA effectively outlawed the sale of drinks which contained caffeine and alcohol, of which the best known was Four Loko AKA 'blackout in a can'. This came after a series of scare stories new articles telling tales of students drinking too much, passing out, getting their stomachs pumped and all the other things that have definitely never happened before in the history of higher education ever.

These drinks are, or were, nothing more than alcohol combined with the kind of energy drinks that are available everywhere. Consequently, it took almost a second for drinkers across America to work out what they needed to do to get around the FDA ban. The gentleman below explains the cunning plan in 37 seconds.

So, having hyped up a scare that wasn't there and brought in a ban that won't work, the next logical step has to be extending the ban to paper over the cracks.

Jacob Sullum reports at Reason:

Mary Claire O'Brien, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine who helped foment the moral panic that led the FDA to ban Four Loko and three other brands of caffeinated malt beverages last fall, says the fight against demonic drinks is far from over.

"These premixed alcoholic energy drinks are only a fraction of the true public health risk," she and co-author Amelia Arria, a researcher at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, warn in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association commentary. "Regular (nonalcoholic) energy drinks might pose just as great a threat to individual and public health and safety."

Notice that energy drinks are not just a threat to health, but are—miraculously—"just as great a threat" to health as when they were mixed with alcohol. If true, that would make the banning of Four Loko look pretty futile. It means that something must be done, dammit. It would also suggest that alcohol itself is not a health risk, or at least that it is no more dangerous than the energy drinks with which it is mixed. Those energy drinks are widely available and have no age restrictions. And that, of course, raises a very important question; one that doesn't get asked enough these days...

Fortunately, Pediatrics—the World's Worst Journal™—is on hand to fan that particular flame:*

Heavy caffeine consumption, such as drinking energy drinks, has been associated with even more serious consequences such as seizures, mania, stroke, and sudden death....

Children, especially those with cardiovascular, renal, or liver disease, seizures, diabetes, mood and behavioral disorders, or hyperthyroidism or those who take certain medications, may be at higher risk for adverse events from energy-drink consumption...

Unless research establishes energy-drink safety in children and adolescents, regulation, as with tobacco, alcohol, and prescription medications, is prudent.

As Sullum points out, Pediatrics equates heavy caffeine consumption with energy drinks, when by far the most common 'caffeine-delivery device' is the humble cup of coffee. No one is (yet) suggesting that coffee be treated as a controlled substance. As I mentioned in a recent post on the subject of red wine, I suspect that this is because middle-class public health professionals drink coffee but don't drink Red Bull, just as they will drink wine but won't drink Four Loko.

Since a can of Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine (comfortably below the recommended limit for children and adolescents) and a short coffee from Starbucks has 180 (far above it), the focus on energy drinks—which the authors suggest should be restricted like cigarettes, alcohol, or maybe Valium—is puzzling, especially since, by their own account, American teenagers typically do not consume very much caffeine. "In the United States," the article says, "adolescent caffeine intake averages 60 to 70 mg/day." But why let that stand in the way of a good panic?

Incidentally, the Pediatrics study itself is another belter. Masochists can read the whole thing here, but the methodology alone tells you that it's up to Pediatrics' usual standards of scientific excellence.

OBJECTIVE To review the effects, adverse consequences, and extent of energy-drink consumption among children, adolescents, and young adults.

METHODS We searched PubMed and Google using "energy drink," "sports drink," "guarana," "caffeine," "taurine," "ADHD," "diabetes," "children," "adolescents," "insulin," "eating disorders," and "poison control center" to identify articles related to energy drinks. Manufacturer Web sites were reviewed for product information.

How do they find these people? "Scientist wanted — must have internet access and own pyjamas."


Leg-iron said...

So that's Irish Coffee off the menu then?

Looks like caffeine is about to be hit as hard as all the rest.

they should be regulated as stringently as tobacco, alcohol and prescription medicines.

Of course, they are dangerous in excess. So is tea.

It looks increasingly as if the future is going to be lentils and water. I'm glad I'm already old.

Jackson said...

I think it's all crap anyway. The fuddy duddies just hate the idea of energy drinks because they think that young people are dangerous enough without the supposed energy enhancing effects of coffee and other mysterious herbs.

AFAIK the Four Loko drink was dangerous in the wrong hands because it was:
1) About 13% ethanol by volume
2) Sweet, fizzy and easy to chug

It's just a "strong" alcoholic beveridge like Champagne but cheaper and easier to drink quickly.

Anonymous said...

Good article about the alcohol problem myth here.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Is it correct to talk about 'counterfeit alcohol' in that context? No one's saying it's not real alcohol, are they? 'Untaxed alcohol' is what they mean.

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't know what Caffeine & alcohol do together - not much more than just alcohol is my guess.

I'm not keen on my kids (or me) drinking energy drinks - not because of the caffeine but because of the incredible amount of sugar in them. And the high cost of them. I don't buy them in, but they occasionally buy them themselves.

Consider this - A few years ago I spoke with a pub landlord who'd banned "snake bite" lager mixed with cider ( or in tabloid speak - a lethal mixture of cider and lager ) from his pub.

I asked him why when it didn't seem logical that it could affect people any differently from drinking the two drinks on their own.

His response was that he knew it made no difference at all, but that the people who drank it in his pub thought that it got them drunk quickly - which was the only reason they drank it. His ban was in place basically to discourage people who were just out to get drunk as quick as they could - when the drink became less popular he dropped the ban - people who liked the taste of it but weren't out to get rat arsed were not a problem to him.

I can see the sense in him doing that (especially having seen the type of customers he got) - but the FDA's response seems a bit heavy handed

Anonymous said...

I think it should definitely be banned. It tastes disgusting and I don't like it.

That's reason enough, isn't it?

westcoast2 said...

That methodology worked well for Naomi Oreskes, now Professor Oreskes.

James Walker said...

Eh they're were worst scare stories that came out when I was growing up drinking them. I just drink some starbucks now since it's free at my colleges cafeteria. Doubt they'll do anything since it's not worth fighting Hansens and rockstar, but who knows didn't france ban redbull or something.

Unknown said...

Meant to say there were worse scare stories that's the effect of too much coca cola right there.

Anonymous said...

Anyone heard of Bailey's Irish Cream? Or the generic drink - brandy and coffee?

But, on a more serious note, is it not time that people started to query the phrase and the whole idea of 'Public Health'? Is there actually any such thing, or is it just another politician's sound bite/slogan?

There was an idea floated recently that the Health Dept might be re-named 'The Public Health Dept'. I was quite pleased to hear about that idea since I assumed that it was a political ploy precursing an intention to take the actual NHS out of the Health Dept. and create a specific ministry for the NHS itself. That, I thought, would be excellent since the Public Health Dept would have to justify its nannying.

I still think that it would be a good idea, provided that the phrase Public Health was properly defined. The safety of atomic power stations would be relevant along with with the water supply, etc (in other words, things which apply to us all). In those cases, Public Health would be involved. The actions of individual citizens however would not. For example, if an individual wishes to drink alcohol, that is his decision and is not a matter of Public Health. The reason is that no one can say what an individual's tolerance of alcohol is.

In response to my own question, then, there is a meaning for the phrase 'The Public Health', but that does not include manipulating individual choices. The phrase refers to external influences which might affect our health over which we have no control.

A few months ago, I wrote to the Health Sec to complain about the advert 'take 7 steps out' on the grounds that it was scientifically nonsense. I received the reply (from an Appalachian) that "...smoking kills 100 000 people per an....". I would dispute that, but, even if it were true, the decision to smoke is a free choice of each individual and is not imposed (as is the case with the water supply). Therefore, it is not a matter for Public Health (I know that, to get around this fact, ASH and co insist that The Tobacco Industry is somehow 'forcing' people to smoke!)

It is not acceptable that Public Health should be a political slogan or sound-bite, to be interpreted as any which way. Is it not surely a fact that lots of our present problems arise fro lack of definition?

Anonymous said...

Aparatchnik - for heavens sake!