Tuesday 4 December 2018

Energy drinks are safe so let's have minimum pricing!

The Science and Technology Committee published its review of energy drinks today and found no scientific justification for banning their sale to minors.

In our view, there is insufficient evidence as to whether children’s consumption habits are significantly different for energy drinks compared with other caffeinated products such as tea and coffee.

.. On balance, we conclude that 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. Single portions are within the European Food Safety Authority’s suggested limit for caffeine intake by children. This limit may be exceeded if other products containing caffeine are also consumed, or if energy drinks are consumed in excess, but the same can be said for many products available for sale to young people, including other drinks containing caffeine.

Recognising that the government is already committed to this policy, the committee adds that it might still want to introduce a ban 'on the basis of societal concerns and qualitative evidence, such as the experience of school teachers'. If so, the government 'should set out the reasoning for its decision.'

I, for one, look forward to hearing the government explaining why it ignored empirical, scientific evidence in favour of anecdotes from teachers.

The ban on energy drink sales to under-18s has always been a solution looking for a problem. As I said in August, it is arbitrary and illogical. If the issue is caffeine - and if a ban to minors is appropriate - then the logical approach is to ban the sale of caffeinated products to children. If the issue is sugar (the proposed ban is part of the childhood obesity strategy) then it should logically be extended to all products which contain a similar quantity of sugar/calories.

Neither approach would strike the general public as reasonable or proportionate and so the government has to portray energy drinks as being in some way special. But why? A can of Red Bull has less caffeine than a cup of filter coffee and the sugar content of energy drinks is no higher than that of Coca-Cola. I dare say the zealots who pushed this policy on the government would like to ban the sale of sugar and caffeine, but we are not there yet.

So how has the 'public health' lobby reacted to the Science and Technology Committee's evidence-based conclusion?

Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said it was "disappointing not to see a recommendation today to ban the sale of these drinks to children.

"We believe that the evidence is already compelling that energy drinks bring no benefits and only harm to children."

Well, Russ, you are wrong.

Prof Viner said the Government should introduce "a minimum price for energy drinks as we know their cheap price tag is a key driver for their purchase".

Talk about doubling-down! On the day that a cross-party committee recognises that these products are safe, Russell Viner demands not only their sale be banned to minors but that the price be hiked up for adults.

If the name Russell Viner rings a bell it's because the government gave him £5 million in 2017 to carry out research and give 'independent advice to policy makers'. This is not the first time he has made statements that fly in the face of evidence. Not very encouraging is it?

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