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On the front line of the fight to stop children buying energy drinks

LAST month the Sunday Herald launched a new campaign calling on retailers not to sell high-energy drinks to children under 16.

Dante Cortellessa banned energy drink sales to under-16s at his Edinburgh chippy.Photograph: Steve Cox
Dante Cortellessa banned energy drink sales to under-16s at his Edinburgh chippy.Photograph: Steve Cox

The Edinburgh-based Responsible Retailing of Energy Drinks, (RRED), founded by Edinburgh councillor Norma Austin-Hart, wants stores to voluntarily stop selling drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, and Relentless to under-16s.

Labels on cans already warn the drinks have a high caffeine content and are not recommended for children. Makers insist children are not targeted for sales, and a code of practice says high-caffeine soft drinks should not be promoted or marketed to those under 16.

But teachers and parents say they see pupils drinking four cans of the drinks a day and they are damaging the health and affecting the behaviour of schoolchildren.

The Sunday Herald believes without a voluntary ban by retailers, Holyrood should legislate to prevent sales to children.

Here, a shop owner, a parent and a medic explain why they back the campaign to stop the sale of energy drinks to children.

THE SHOP OWNER

Dante Cortellessa owns the Jubilee takeaway in Granton, Edinburgh. He stopped selling energy drinks to young children at the end of last year. Children as young as seven or eight were coming into the chip shop to buy four or five cans a day.

"I wouldn't like it if my own 11-year-old son was doing that," he said. "We are a very local business, we know all the families that live around here and have been here for 40 years, so it was just a case of common sense.

"There were children aged between seven and eight up to the age of 10 or 11 and they were drinking it like water - I don't really think they know what it is."

Cortellessa put up signs saying high-energy drinks will not be sold to anyone under 16. He has only had positive feedback about the move.

"If a parent comes in with their child and says I want them to have an energy drink, I will give them it as it is the parent's responsibility," he said. "I know it is not the law, so I will use a bit of common sense, but I am not going to take the responsibility of giving it to children and then have to answer to their parents.

"I am here to make a profit. I am not a charity, but I just don't think the extra few pence I earn on a 99p can of energy drink is worth it.

"In a case like this it is better to put the children before profits."

THE MEDIC

Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, recently joined the RRED campaign as a medical adviser. He has concerns about the high sugar levels in energy drinks contributing to child obesity and says a ban on sales to under 16s would make it easier for youngsters to be healthy.

He said: "I don't think many experts would disagree with the stance that kids don't need energy drinks. There is a lack of research in this area - in part because to be able to undertake this research someone has to fund it.

"However, to actually do a trial to try and compare limiting these drinks in some kids and giving others energy drinks, then measuring them in an objective fashion, is hard. It is not an easy level of research to do.

"However, what we do know is that many kids are overconsuming calories in the form of sugary drinks and this is part of it. We also know that caffeine can make many of us more on edge and perhaps can alter children's concentration in school."

Sattar said it is difficult for retailers to square making a profit and being socially responsible.

"However, if they were socially responsible they wouldn't be selling these things as much and I think fundamentally legislation is the way we will have to go," he added.

THE PARENT

Suzy Routledge, from Edinburgh, is frustrated at the difficulties she meets trying to stop her sons aged 11 and 12 buying energy drinks.

She believes a ban on sales to youngsters would help her efforts.

She said: "Even though I say no, you will give them money to go to the sweetie shop and they will come back with an energy drink.

"As much as you say I don't like you doing that, that is what they are going to do. It is very difficult to stop them at that age - especially when they say, 'my mates are all drinking it, they are allowed' - it is hard being out on your own as a parent and trying to say no.

"If their friends' parents are allowing it then I am seen as the wicked witch. I do feel like I am in the minority."

Routledge said her sons were moody and likely to get into arguments after consuming the drinks.

She said shops around schools sell energy drinks and one of her sons can get them when he goes out on his lunch break.

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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