Energy drink use among youth topic of 'dialogue session'

More than 100 health, school and law enforcement officials met in Fredericton Tuesday to discuss concerns about energy drink consumption among youth in the province and possible solutions.

Health officials concerned about potential risks of caffeinated drinks to children and teens

The New Brunswick government hosted a "dialogue session" on Tuesdayto hear concerns about energy drink consumption among youth and suggestions on how to deal with the issue.

More than 100 people participated in the invitation-only session in Fredericton, including health officials, school district representatives, law enforcement officers and other stakeholders.

As it stands, there are no restrictions in the province on who can buy the caffeinated drinks, which some doctors warn are being marketed to youth.

Miramichi pediatrician Michael Dickinson says energy drinks, such as Red Bull and Monster Energy, have changed his practice.

"I frequently see teenagers that come in to my office complaining about headaches, nausea, difficulty sleeping," he said.

Caffeine is a drug … I think a ban on these drinks, these products and people under the age of 18 makes perfect sense.- Dr. Michael Dickinson, Miramichi pediatrician

"Caffeine is a drug," said Dickinson. "I think a ban on these drinks, these products and people under the age of 18 makes perfect sense."

But Health Minister Ted Flemming says it isn't that easy.

"We don't have a law against smoking. Maybe there should be, but there isn't, so it's not as simple as saying, 'We should have a law,'" he said.

There are, however, rules about underage smoking.

In August, the Canadian Medical Association called on provincial governments to ban the sale of energy drinks to people under the legal drinking age.

Martin-Pierre Pelletier, of the Canadian Beverage Association, contends that would be unfair.

"Only between 10 and 20 per cent of the caffeine intake for teenagers comes from energy drinks. That means 80 to 90 per cent comes from things like tea, coffee, and chocolate," he said.

Grade 12 student Hannah Hebert believes education might be the best solution.

"You know, awareness about caffeine for the parents, of how much caffeine are in these products, something as simple as that may go a long way to parents not allowing their children to have these products," she said.

Public health concern

The meeting involved panel presentations from health professionals and industry representatives.

“Today's session is an opportunity to share ideas and find ways to protect children and young people from the adverse effects of energy drinks,” New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health Dr. Eilish Cleary said in a statement.

“Consumption of energy drinks is a public health concern due to the potential risks when consumed by children and young people," she said.

The caffeinated drinks are associated with increased risk of adverse behavioural and health effects, such as increased heart rate and higher blood pressure, she has said.

Cleary had expressed concern in May about the number of youth consuming energy drinks, based on the results of the 2012 New Brunswick Student Drug Use Survey Report.

Fifty-seven per cent of students said they used energy drinks, 12 per cent said they drank them more than once a month, and eight per cent said they used them more than twice a month.

It was the first time the provincial government had asked young people about energy drinks.

A summary of Tuesday's dialogue session will be made available on the Department of Health's website later this fall, officials said.

In April 2012, Liberal MLA Bill Fraser introduced a private member’s bill that would have required anyone who sells energy drinks to warn the buyer about the potentially harmful effects of the product.


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