After hearing concerns from parents and health authorities, the City of Toronto is being asked to consider restricting the sale of caffeinated energy drinks to people under the age of 19.
On Monday, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the city’s acting medical officer of health, called on city council to ask city agencies to restrict the sale and marketing of caffeinated energy drinks to people under 19.
She said there are health concerns about the safety of the drinks, which contain sugar, caffeine and taurine, and which some studies have shown can trigger health problems such as abnormal heart rhythms.
Yaffe said children and youth should really not be drinking the drinks and she worries about the effects of mixing them with alcohol.
“In particular, when combined with alcohol, they may impair your ability to know how much you’ve drunk and therefore, (they may) increase risky behaviour like drunk driving or violence,” Yaffe told reporters Monday.
After reviewing evidence and listening to presentations from parents as well as groups representing drink makers, Yaffe said she would like to see amendments to the municipal alcohol policy to educate event organizers about the drinks and to encourage them not to mix them with alcohol.
One of those who spoke before the Board of Health was Jim Shepherd, whose 15-year-old son died of an unexplained arrhythmia, or heart rhythm disturbance, hours after consuming energy drinks.
Shepherd told CTV Toronto that, while his son’s autopsy wasn’t able to identify a clear cause of death, his son never had any health or heart problems before he died and he’s convinced that the energy drink his son drank contributed to his death.
Shepherd believes much more needs to be done to keep energy drinks away from teens.
“If an informed adult wants to drink them, that’s their business; I have no problem with that. But we protect minors from alcohol, we protect from cigarettes, we protect them from fireworks. So why don’t we protect them from energy drinks?” he said.
The Canadian Beverage Association defended the drinks, noting that the drink labels already state that they are not recommended for children and should not be mixed with alcohol.
“We look to Health Canada, who’s our regulator here, and in 2013, they did their risk assessment and said energy drinks are safe for consumption,” a CBA representative told the board.
The Board of Health’s recommendations will now go to Toronto city council for discussion next week.