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Call time on dangerous energy drinks


Jerril Rechter

The death of 16-year-old Sara Milosevic has raised concerns over the dangers of alcoholic energy drinks.

The death of 16-year-old Sara Milosevic has raised concerns over the dangers of alcoholic energy drinks. Photo: Craig Abraham

They have been dubbed ''blackout in a can'' for their disturbing ability to erase the events of the night before. They have killed and hospitalised young people worldwide. And they are directly linked to heart problems, uncharacteristic erratic behaviour, violence and drink-driving.

So why do alcohol companies continue to make high-potency alcopops with added caffeine that are specifically marketed to appeal to our riskiest drinkers - young people?

Alcoholic energy drinks must be banned. And Victoria should lead the charge.

These irresponsible and dangerous products have already caused deaths in America and, sadly, now are suspected in the death of Victorian teenager Sara Milosevic.

These drinks appeal to Generation Y because they are potent, mask the taste and soporific effects of alcohol, and deliver a ''pick me up'' feeling.

Young people are slamming up to 10 of these drinks a night, vastly increasing their risk of hurting themselves, or someone else.

The Age was right to question the manufacturers about just why there is a warning for children on their products.

In December, four states in America pulled alcoholic energy drinks from the shelves. In April last year, the West Australian government banned the sale of alcohol mixed with energy drinks in clubs after midnight. In 2008, Fosters and Lion Nathan showed corporate responsibility by discontinuing their lines of alcoholic energy drinks. Unfortunately, the other companies did not follow their lead.

Although the most popular energy drinks contain the equivalent of an average cup of coffee, combining a stimulant with alcohol is really dangerous and can ''freak out'' the nervous system.

These drinks dissolve your ability to think straight and act safely. You feel you're relatively sober when you're actually very drunk.

Studies have shown that it is common for young people to continue drinking alcoholic energy drinks well after they would usually have called it a night, amplifying the normal risks associated with drinking.

The ''wide awake drunk'' feeling can create a false impression of being in control, which can lead to an increased risk of drink-driving and other risk-taking behaviour and physical injury.

Alcoholic energy drinks have also been linked with disturbed heart rhythms, serious dehydration, uncharacteristic behaviour and violence.

While concerns about alcohol and young people are not new, the difference now is that the market has changed, not the natural curiosity of teens to experiment with booze.

The drinks teens opt for today are more alcoholic, they are aggressively marketed, widely available and cleverly designed to mask the taste of alcohol. And now they include a stimulant ingredient designed to encourage the drinker to consume more.

The Milosevics are seeking answers about why their daughter died. There is a very simple way to prevent further tragedy. Ban these drinks altogether.

Jerril Rechter is chief executive of the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth).

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  • I mean honestly, I would never touch the stuff, but you have to wonder how far the solution of just banning dangerous things can take us. Alcohol is already supposedly off-limits to this 16 year-old girl, but that didn't seem to help. My guess is that if school-kids and adult citizens were given a little more respect and unbiased information about drugs - legal and illegal - rather than just scare campaigns, there would be far less ignorant and dangerous behaviour going on.

    Date and time
    June 06, 2012, 8:30AM
    • All the media reports seem to be glossing over the fact that this girl was 16 and consuming alcohol...

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 12:44PM
    • Of course, why ignore the most important point (that we already have laws that should have prevented the 16 year old from drinking and saved her life) and now we're talking about banning something that is enjoyed by millions because of a few irresponsible parents and poor adherance to the existing laws? Why is that our fault? Why is that our problem? The vast majority of the millions of people consuming these drinks have absolutely no problems with them.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 12:52PM
    • Its the same as cigarettes, they cause cancer and death but they are not banned for one simple reason.

      Tax and profits!

      Most governments don't have the guts to stand up to big business and of course its everyone else who has to pay for this in crime, death, violence etc.

      It is a shame that, as some of the comments make, we tolerate violence more than being responsible.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:00PM
    • The retaxing of alcopops in a way has been quiet successful.

      Coincidence perhaps, but at the same time a lot of people went and substituted their drinks for an alcoholic cider.

      No caffeine/alco/guarana which is a probably a good thing.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:07PM
    • The vast majority of the millions of people consuming these drinks have absolutely no problems with them.
      daniel June 06, 2012, 12:52P

      Go into the middle of Sydney any weekend night, and see if the vast majority doesn't have a problem with alcohol, or talk to the cops policing out there, who report back that young people, including girls, are drinking more, and are becoming more aggresive. This is a serious problem.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:15PM
    • I agree - what it comes down to is the choices you make and the Government should not be interfering with those decisions. If these children cannot make the appropriate decision it’s not the manufacturers responsibility. The challenge for the government is ensuring that children are given the appropriate advice and information. What this really is, is an attempt to regulate the choices individuals make about the food and beverages they consume. If they can’t make an informed decision then parents, the Government and society has failed them.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:18PM
    • Most underage kids are going to drink.
      If they can't get their kicks from these "Alcopops" then they are going to buy a bottle of Vodka and make their own. I'm sorry there is just no way around the issue.
      You ask why they sell this high potency stuff. Well you can't get much more potent than a bottle of pure Vodka, they sell that too. And if you ban Alcopops they will just mix Vodka with with rec bull because to young people that tastes good.
      I'm sorry but anything short of illegalising alcohol won't work. Education won't help either. People must have just forgotten what it's like to be a kid. You want to be a rebel. Any warnings you get about alcohol or drugs make them that much more appealing. I might sound like a typical bad seed but it's just the truth.
      Sure a lot of people avoid the urge to get sloshed and focus on study, but I can tell you, nothing can be done to totally prevent this problem. Nothing short of making alcohol totally illegal that is. But the Government wouldn't give up that cash cow now would they! Much the same as Tobacco..... Nothing good comes from smoking (I'm a smoker myself), but they still sell them. Sure they can make the packets plain, put warnings on them, but people will still smoke. And the Health minister actually stands up there and looks proud of himself announcing they are jacking the prices of packs up 20%. But all that means is that they will make 20% more in their back pocket for every pack that gets sold.
      Once again I digress...

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:20PM
    • Very true - I was shocked to learn about the dangers of energy drinks especially as I worked in the UK and AU as a bartender where most bars offer specials for vodka and red bull drinks. The only reason I found out about the serious problems energy drinks can cause is because I read the paper regularly and just by chance came across articles about deaths as a result of kids drinking these things before sporting matches. I would have never guessed, for the mere fact that they can be bought anywhere with zero warning labels, they would be harmless.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:43PM
    • Interesting comment about school kids getting appropriate information. The approach to drug education in n
      NSW gov schools has been nationally and internationally acclaimed as provideing high quality resources and ensuring teachers are appropriately trained. While the substance changes, the drug problem never goes away. Remember Anna Wood?
      Given this, and as a parent of 2 school aged children, I find it incredible that the NSW Department of Education's latest job cuts include the whole of the specialised drug prevention unit. On one hand the premier is outspoken about jailing parents who provide alcohol to underage minors and on the other his government demonstrates that it wont support the successful preventative agenda.How short sighted.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 2:07PM

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