ALL Jersey retailers should stop selling energy drinks packed with dangerous levels of sugar and caffeine to under-16s, the Island’s director of public health has said.
Professor Peter Bradley spoke out after several stores began stocking Prime Energy, the latest ‘must have’ product in the multi-billion-pound global energy drinks industry.
The long-awaited arrival of Prime – which contains as much caffeine as four espressos or six cans of coke – has sparked chaos in shops in the UK, with long queues forming outside stores and cans being sold for over £100 online.
It recently went on sale in one shop in Jersey for £15, although prices have since reduced after more retailers began to stock the drink.
But the explosion in the number of energy-drink products coming to market over the last decade has raised serious concerns over the effect they are having on young people’s health.
A 335ml can of Prime Energy – launched by YouTube celebrities KSI and Logan Paul – is laden with 200mg of caffeine, well above the maximum of 150mg of caffeine per litre recommended for under-16s.
Other drinks have less caffeine but are packed with almost three times a child’s daily recommended maximum intake of sugar.
Although there are no laws in the UK or Jersey on selling highly caffeinated drinks to young people, Jersey’s larger retailers – including the Co-op, Waitrose and SandpiperCI – already request customers to show proof of age when buying highly caffeinated drinks.
Professor Bradley has now called on all shops to restrict sales based on age.
‘We know from school-survey data that 8% of boys and 4% of girls drank high-energy drinks for four days or more the previous week, and that is quite a lot,’ he said.
‘Generally the problem is the sugar content in the drinks. The recommended maximum sugar intake for children aged seven to ten is about six teaspoons per day, but some of the leading brands have 17.
‘Too much sugar can lead to harm and the development of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
‘Prime contains very little sugar but it has a different problem – it has very high levels of caffeine and that leads to different problems such as being at higher risk of heart palpitations and tremors and stomach upsets as well as not being able to sleep.’
He added: ‘We really do need to be very careful about the consumption of all these energy drinks across the board – those with high sugar or high caffeine levels.
‘It would be very helpful if local retailers chose not to sell them to people under 16 but that is down to their individual discretion.
‘I think it would be very helpful if they did that, particularly if they have people coming in and buying these drinks on a daily basis.’
Professor Bradley said he was not in favour of a law banning the sale of drinks to under-16s – partly because it would be difficult to enforce – and instead would prefer to have a wider conversation with retailers, young people and their parents on food and drink nutrition, including the consumption of energy drinks.
‘We do not yet know what the long-term effects of these drinks could be, but in the most extreme cases it would be a problem sleeping. But you can certainly anticipate there will be long-term effects,’ said the professor.
‘We are planning to speak to retailers in 2023 about food and nutrition more generally and understand their perspective as there are obviously pressures on them too. This will include energy drinks.
‘We need an informed debate where young people and their parents can say what works for them, and the retailers themselves need to be involved in this.’
In a statement, Waitrose said it was the first retailer to set an age limit on sales of high-caffeine energy drinks, announcing on 5 March 2018 that it would not sell the products to under-16s.
The policy requires customers buying energy drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre to prove they are over 16 years of age.
Co-op and Morrisons also require proof of age for caffeinated drinks.