16 May 2014, 17:52

Lithuanian parliament considers ban on selling energy drinks to minors

Lithuanian parliament considers ban on selling energy drinks to minors

Lithuania's parliament on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to ban the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to minors.
Lithuania's legislation targets drinks that contain 150 milligrams of caffeine per liter, it also applies to beverages containing a range of stimulants like guarana, ginsenosides, glucuronolactone, and taurine. 

Not only is the direct sale of these drinks to minors prohibited under the new law, but buying the drinks for them is also illegal.

"We hope that some countries of the EU that don't have a clear position will follow the Lithuanian way," Almantas Kranauskas, a Health Ministry official, said in an interview.

The ban will take effect in November after it was approved by parliament on Thursday.

The health ministry said it was setting a precedent within the EU. It isn't clear how much of a precedent the move by Lithuania, which has a population of only 3 million, will set. Attempts to prohibit sales to minors have generally fallen flat in larger markets. Lawmakers in Maryland, for instance, introduced a bill in February proposing a ban on youth sales, but a committee voted it down in March. Similar efforts in Chicago have failed to take hold. Lawmakers in New York state's Suffolk County last year prohibited the sale of energy drinks to minors—but only in county parks.

"According to our survey, a majority of other nations say that they only have recommendations in place, not bans," ministry official Almantas Kranauskas said.

"I think it will serve as an impetus for other countries. Many of them are still hesitating and might be influenced by the lucrative energy drinks industry."

Kranauskas said the huge concentration of caffeine found in some energy drinks could lead to addiction and hyperactivity, adding that some scientists suggest it could also encourage youngsters to try drugs.

A study commissioned in 2013 by the European Food Safety Authority found that adolescents were by far more prone to consume energy drinks than adults, with 68% of European youths aged 10 to 18 years old drinking them.
The European Commission has expressed concern about the health risks of such drinks, and they have drawn scrutiny from regulators in both the 28-member European Union and the US. The UK will soon require companies to label drinks with more than 150 milligrams per liter of caffeine, and German consumer protection agencies have called for tighter controls on energy drinks.

The stakes are high for makers of energy drinks, which is one of the fastest-growing beverage categories. Global energy-drink sales have grown more than fourfold over the past decade and rose 6.8% to $27.53 billion in 2013, according to market research firm Euromonitor.

Energy drink makers have argued they are unfairly targeted. They say they don't market to children and that their products typically contain about 10 milligrams of caffeine per ounce, or half that of a Starbucks coffee. They also cite studies showing children get most of their caffeine from soda, coffee and tea, not energy drinks.
Energy drink companies have faced heightened scrutiny in the US since 2012, when New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a probe into their marketing and health claims and the Food and Drug Administration disclosed it was investigating whether energy drinks "may pose significant risks" if consumed in excess or by "vulnerable groups" including young people or those with pre-existing cardiac conditions. The companies at the time reiterated that their products are safe.

Meanwhile, critics do claim the ban might have a negative influence on the soft drinks industry in Lithuania.
"It is wrong to think that these restrictions could be conducive to improving business conditions. It will trigger significant chaos and huge costs," liberal lawmaker Eugenijus Gentvilas said.

In addition, critics have pointed out that coffee also contains caffeine, stressing that energy drinks aren't the only culprit.
"I'm not sure which products fall into the definition; it is not only energy drinks, but coffee, ” local 15 min.lt news portal quoted a member of the liberal movement Remigijus Simasius.

"Taurine is now put not only in drinks but in chewing gum, chocolates, and candies too," another opponent told the news portal.
MP Alma Monkauskaite objected to the arguments, saying that energy drinks contain up to ten times more caffeine than coffee.
"It is important to public health, even though a bit of a disruption to business, ” she said, according to balsas.lt website.

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