THOUSANDS of small and independent convenience shops across Scotland will be encouraged to pledge their support to a campaign to ban the sale of energy drinks to children.
The Scottish Grocers' Federation (SGF), which represents around 2000 stores, has said it will encourage its members to sign up as part of its aim of promoting responsible community retailing.
Last week, the Sunday Herald revealed how a new Scottish campaign is urging retailers not to sell energy drinks to under-16s due to concerns about their impact on health and behaviour.
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The drinks, such as Rockstar, Red Bull, Monster and Relentless, are all high in caffeine and sugar.
The Responsible Retailing of Energy Drinks (RRED), founded by Edinburgh councillor Norma Austin-Hart, has received the backing of teachers and parents.
John Lee, public affairs manager with SGF, said the federation was going to look at raising awareness of the campaign among members following a meeting with Austin-Hart last week.
He said: "We have over 2000 stores in membership, so it is a sizeable chunk of the convenience store estate in Scotland and they are in every town, city, rural community and island community in Scotland.
"I'm sure it would be a big boost to the campaign if we could encourage our members to sign up to it. The campaign seems to be a very positive one and we are very happy to look at proactively encouraging our members to get involved in it."
Lee said he had no reason to think SGF members were not already selling the drinks responsibly, but added he was aware concerns had been raised about their impact on young people. For example, teachers at the recent Educational Institute of Scotland's AGM called for a ban on their sale to youngsters under 16.
He added: "Promoting responsible community retailing is really the aim of the SGF, so this is something we are more than happy to be involved in at this stage and see how we can take it forward with our members."
Austin-Hart said the approach taken by the SGF was "very encouraging", particularly as many major supermarkets have so far declined to back the campaign,
"It would be brilliant if these independent retailers could be ahead of the curve and show the large supermarkets how to do this," she added.
MSP Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green party food spokeswoman and vice-convener of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on children and young people, said she did not think the issue was being taken seriously enough.
"There is an issue here about responsible retailing. If you are a responsible retailer and the product says this is not recommended for children, then please do not sell it to children," she said.
"But it would be really helpful if the government issued guidance to retailers. If that fails to have any impact then I think we do need to look at legislation. It really is time we had a very good look at this issue."
She also expressed concern that warning labels stating unsuitability for children could have the unintended effect of making them more attractive to youngsters.
"We are not always switched on to doing what is in our best interests, and if it appears this is a bit of a grown-up product, that might have an appeal all of its own," she added.
The European Food Safety Authority is currently carrying out research in order to issue an official scientific opinion on the safety of caffeine which is expected to be published at the end of this year.
It will look at the safety of caffeine consumption in the general population and in specific groups, including adolescents' consumption of caffeine through energy drinks.
The British Soft Drinks Association, which represents manufacturers, has a code of practice stating that soft drinks high in caffeine must be labelled with warnings that they are not suitable for children and that the drinks should not be promoted or marketed to children under 16.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it encourages all retailers to adhere to this recommendation.
He added: "The Scottish Government will continue to monitor the evidence and carefully consider recommendations made in relation to the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.
"In the UK, many high-caffeine drink manufacturers already include voluntary advice on their products about their unsuitability for children and pregnant women due to the high caffeine content.
"This will be a legal requirement when new legislation comes into force in December this year."