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Australian poison report sparks call for tighter energy drink rules

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Australian poison report sparks call for tighter energy drink rules

A sharp rise in emergency calls related to energy drinks with a high caffeine content has prompted a call for tighter regulation and compulsory health warnings.

The call, rejected by the energy drink industry, came after research by the University of Sydney and the New South Wales Poisons Information Centre found an increase in symptoms including cardiac arrhythmias, tremors, dizziness, hallucinations and stomach problems.

Published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the research also warned of even greater problems emerging with the "dangerous phenomenon" of mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation, which includes Australian and New Zealand health ministers, has already agreed to a review of caffeinated energy drinks.

If the review reflects researchers' concerns the transtasman regulatory body Food Standards Australia New Zealand could be told to consider new regulations.

The Forum is also waiting for a report from the federal intergovernmental committee on drugs on proposals to counter the mix of energy drinks and alcohol.

The new research said that in the seven years to the end of 2010 almost 300 calls relating to energy drinks were made to the NSW Poisons Information Centre, which handles half the nation's poison calls.

Emergency services were sent to almost 130 callers, 20 of whom showed signs of serious cardiac or neurological toxicity.

Last year 65 people called the centre after consuming energy drinks, compared with 12 in 2004, the first year of the study.

About one quarter of energy drink-related calls over the seven years involved alcohol mixtures, and 30 per cent included the use of added stimulants such as amphetamines or caffeine tablets.

The median age of callers was 17.

The study also said 62 children under the age of 10 had accidentally consumed energy drinks - and nine were admitted to hospital.

The report's authors, Poisons Centre medical director Naren Gunja and poisons specialist Jared Brown, said that health authorities needed to improve public education on the risks of energy drinks.

They said that with clear evidence of toxicity and increasing hospitalisations warning labels should be introduced.

But the Australian Beverages Council said Australian energy drinks were already the world's most heavily regulated and that consumers had adequate information through existing labels informing of caffeine content.

The council said energy drinks contained about the same amount of caffeine as a normal cup of coffee.By Greg Ansley | Email Greg


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