A number of medical journals have published articles strongly advising against children consuming energy drinks – and even sports drinks – and now the government has introduced new legislation aimed at cautioning consumers about drinking highly caffeinated soft drinks.
Last month health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi signed an amendment to the country’s soft drinks regulations, with regard to “formulated caffeinated beverages” – better known as energy drinks.
Manufacturers and importers have until March to implement the labelling changes.
There is no legislated limit to the amount of caffeine which these drinks may contain, but those which contain more than 150mg of caffeine per litre, shall have to declare the words “High Caffeine Content” as a “clearly legible message” on the front panel on the label.
In other words, no hiding it in small print on the back somewhere.
The caffeine content of SA’s energy drink brands ranges vary widely. Bioplus is 150mg a litre, while Monster is 350mg a litre.
The tins will also have to state “Not recommended for children under 12 years of age; pregnant or lactating women; persons sensitive to caffeine.”
And the quantity of caffeine – per single serving size, as well as per 100ml – will have to be declared directly under the nutritional label, or next to or below the “High caffeine content” declaration or in the list of ingredients, next to caffeine.
Most of the energy drinks on the market currently carry warnings about the product not being suitable for children, pregnant women or those who are caffeine-sensitive, in various ways and places on the tin, but spotting the caffeine content on those slim tins is no easy matter.
Red Bull states caffeine content as “0.03%”.
Interestingly, the original proposed amendment, which was published for comment last year, included another warning: “Not to be consumed as a mixture with alcohol beverages.”
For some reason, that warning didn’t make the final amendment, despite the fact that it’s a warning which has been repeatedly made by the scientists and health professionals around the world.
Why? “Although any type of caffeine consumption after a drinking session might reduce sleepiness, it does not alleviate alcohol-related impairment.
“The state of being less likely to accurately appraise the true level of impairment has been labelled “wide-awake drunkenness” and can lead to engaging in risky behaviour.”
Mixing energy drinks with alcohol was not the same as mixing rum with Coke, the article said, as the latter contained far less caffeine.