Theresa May is today facing a backlash over her controversial proposal to ban the sale of energy drinks to schoolchildren.
The PM announced yesterday that ministers would consult on plans to make the sale of caffeine-heavy products like Red Bull to under-18s or under-16s illegal.
The drastic move comes amid fears that the drinks are helping fuel obesity, tooth decay, bad behaviour and sleep problems among young people.
But the free market think-tank IEA launched an excoriating attack on the proposal – branding them ‘unnecessary and draconian’.
Chris Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the think-tank, said: ‘It is not clear what problem the Government is trying to tackle with this consultation.
‘If the issue is the sugar in these drinks, then why isn’t the Government proposing a ban on the sale of sugary drinks to people under the age of 18?
‘If the issue is caffeine then why isn’t the Government proposing a sale on coffee to people under the age of 18?
‘Banning 17 year olds from buying lemonade or coffee would strike most reasonable people as crazy, so what is so special about energy drinks?
‘The amount of caffeine in these drinks is less than would be found in a standard cup of coffee.’
The PM (pictured today in Kenya trying out a plastic telephone) announced yesterday that ministers would consult on plans to make the sale of caffeine-heavy products like Red Bull to under-18s or under-16s illegal
He said that while some there are some health and behavioural problems associated with children who drink lots of energy drink, criminalising them is ‘unnecessary and draconian’.
And he attacked the PM’s recent record of banning or slapping hefty charges on products in order to force people to change their behaviour.
He said: ‘Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has recently made an issue of energy drinks and it seems that the Government is once again dancing to his tune.
‘The Prime Minister’s claim that energy drinks are cheaper than other soft drinks shows how little she knows about these products.
‘This is proving to be a government that bans first and asks questions later.’
Since becoming the PM, Mrs May has introduced a sugar tax and a 5p charge on plastic bags which is set to double to 10p, it was announced today.
Research has found two thirds of young people aged consume energy drinks, and a quarter of 6-9 year-olds.
But one 250ml drink can contain around 80mg of caffeine – as much as a strong cup of coffee and equivalent to nearly three cans of cola.
Some also have 65 per cent more sugar than regular soft drinks.
A voluntary code has seen a number of bigger retailers stop selling the products to minors.
However, ministers have decided to act after concerns that smaller shops were flouting the advice – with cans in multibuy deals as cheap as 25p each.
Measures put out for consultation say a ban would apply to drinks with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre.
The Red Bull website says it contains 80mg of caffeine in a 250ml can – equivalent to 320mg per litre.
The consultation asks for views on whether the ban should apply to under 16s or under 18s.
But a government source said: ‘It is a question of how, not whether, we do it.’
Speaking yesterday, Mrs May said: ‘Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges this country faces, and that’s why we are taking significant action to reduce the amounts of sugar consumed by young people and to help families make healthier choices.
‘Our plans to tackle obesity are already world leading, but we recognise much more needs to be done and as part of our long-term plan for the NHS, we are putting a renewed focus on the prevention of ill-health.
‘With thousands of young people regularly consuming energy drinks, often because they are sold at cheaper prices than soft drinks, we will consult on banning the sale of energy drinks to children.
‘It is vital that we do all we can to make sure children have the best start in life and I encourage everyone to put forward their views.’
Celebrity chef and anti-obesity campaigner Oliver said: ‘We have a massive problem with kids and energy drinks.
Celebrity chef and anti-obesity campaigner Jamie Oliver welcomed news of the restrictions
‘Too many children are regularly using them to replace breakfast.
‘Teachers from across the country have told me how their lessons are disrupted in classrooms because of these drinks, packed with stimulants.
‘The energy drinks industry has never thought these products were suitable for children.
‘They even say ‘not for children’ on the labels. The sale to kids should be stopped as soon as possible.
‘It’s really great news that the government is announcing their intention to stop selling these drinks to kids.
‘I’m sure parents and health experts across the UK will happily tell the Government this is the right thing to do.’
Shops that flout a ban could be hit with punishments similar to those for selling cigarettes – a £2,500 fine. The consultation officially opens tomorrow, and will last 12 weeks.