Government should keep its hands off energy drinks

On Oct. 6, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced that the federal government would be introducing a cap of 180 milligrams of caffeine in energy drinks. Her argument in favour of the change was that the changes would be “especially helpful to the parents of teenagers who regularly consume energy drinks.”

Ingesting large amounts of caffeine is probably not good for anyone regardless of their age. However, as it stands now energy drinks sold in Canada are well below Health Canada’s maximum daily-recommended dosage of 400 milligrams. Given this, I don’t see a reason to ban some of the more caffeinated varieties of energy drinks.

The energy drinks that I typically drink cost (at least at convenience stores) as much as three dollars. Given the fact that most energy drinks have a comparable amount of caffeine to a Tim Horton’s coffee, the government is just picking a political winner. Why might someone pay a dollar more for an energy drink when they can just get an extra-large coffee at Tim Horton’s and save money? The fact that Tim Horton’s recently announced that they would be experimenting with even larger coffee cup sizes in Ontario only illustrates how teens who want high amounts of caffeine will still be able to get it.

But hey, the minister never said this was about the ability of teens to buy coffee. Neither is she concerned about supporting the free market, individual responsibility or personal choice. This is all about protecting teens who can afford to buy these expensive drinks regularly and helping parents who haven’t educated their kids on the dangers of ingesting too much caffeine.

There are clearly not any more pressing issues for teens in that can be addressed by the federal government. Forget about a 2009 study of about 21,000 teens in the Netherlands that found that obese boys and girls were three to four times more likely to report suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months and four to seven times more likely to report a lifetime suicide attempt. Who needs a federal health minister and federally paid health experts to focus on issues like teenage obesity and teen mental health when they can instead focus on restricting a bunch of otherwise hyper teenagers?

This restriction makes me wonder about the next minor health scare the Harper government will fall for. Can we expect high-energy snack bars and sugary breakfast cereals to be next on their hit list? Better yet, let’s regulate the amount of candy people can give to kids on Halloween. Such things may seem far-fetched, but they demonstrate an important point. There is a clear distinction between informing a consumers about the health hazards of a product and outright restricting everyone’s access to it without due cause. Educating youth and parents about the risks of high caffeine use is the more prudent means of addressing this minor health concern. Teens need to learn to drink caffeinated drinks responsibly.

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