The loudest calls are coming from the state of Victoria, where the health ministry is being urged to ban these drinks citing the case of 16-year-old Sara Milosevic, who died in June 2011 after she consumed three cans of a caffeinated alcoholic beverage containing vodka, soda and guarana.
Leading the call is the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), which has asked for a countrywide ban on alcoholic energy drinks and called on Victoria to lead the charge.
Dangerous and irresponsible
Jerril Rechter, CEO at VicHealth, said that these products are irresponsible and dangerous products, which have already caused deaths in America and were the prime suspect behind Milosevic’s death.
“These drinks appeal to Generation Y because they are potent, mask the taste and sleepy effects of alcohol and deliver a pick me up feeling. Young people are slamming up to 10 of these drinks a night, vastly increasing their risk of hurting themselves,” he said.
Rechter pointed out that in December last year, four states in the US pulled alcoholic energy drinks from the shelves. “In April last year, Western Australia banned the sale of alcohol mixed with energy drinks in clubs after midnight.”
Rechter remarked that back in 2008, brewers Fosters and Lion Nathan showed some measure of responsibility by discontinuing their lines of alcoholic energy drinks but other companies did not follow their lead.
“Although the most popular energy drinks contain the equivalent of an average cup of coffee, combining a stimulant with alcohol is really dangerous and can freak out the nervous system,” he said.
Rechter cited studies that have shown that it’s common for young people to continue drinking alcoholic energy drinks well after they would usually have called it a night, amplifying the normal risks associated with drinking.
“The wide awake drunk feeling can create a false impression of being in control, which can lead to increased risk-taking behaviour. Alcoholic energy drinks have also been linked with disturbed heart rhythms, serious dehydration, uncharacteristic behaviour and violence,” he added.
Policy revision is on
Whatever VicHealth’s demands, Victorian Health Minister David Davis is unlikely to take action on caffeinated alcoholic beverages until more guidance comes from the Australian-New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council.
The council is responsible for the regulation of the alcohol and caffeine content of drinks through the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and labelling requirements for alcoholic drinks.
In a communiqué late last month, Catherine King, the Australian parliamentary secretary for Health and Ageing, said the council had ordered a comprehensive review of the policy on such drinks.
“In 2001, when the first energy drink of this type was produced, the food regulator [Food Standards Australia New Zealand] introduced a Standard for the regulation for caffeinated energy drinks and in 2003, with more products on the market, the Ministerial Council issued a Policy Guideline,” said King.
“Since 2003, the presence of caffeine in the food supply has changed substantially and the number of products containing caffeine has increased as has, in some cases, the level of caffeine in products,” she noted.
“In response to concerns by health professionals and the community, the Council has agreed today to a full review of the Policy Guideline, taking into consideration global developments in caffeinated products and regulatory approaches being taken in comparable markets,” she added.
King also revealed that the Ministerial Council is awaiting advice from the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs on how it plans to respond to the issue of mixing alcohol with caffeinated energy drinks.