Jamie Oliver and The Mirror have been pushing for a ban on the high-caffeine drinks for youngsters
Children are set to be banned from buying high-caffeine energy drinks in another victory for the Mirror.
Ministers today launched a 12-week consultation on scrapping sales of the controversial beverages to most teenagers in a bid to tackle the childhood obesity crisis.
The move paves the way for an age restriction similar to that on cigarettes and alcohol, and the study will investigate support for outlawing sales to under-16s and under-18s.
It comes after the Can It! campaign waged by TV chef Jamie Oliver and backed by this newspaper.
Welcoming the plan, Jamie said last night: “We have a massive problem with kids and energy drinks.
“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.”
Announcing the plan during her three-day trip to Africa, Theresa May said in Nigeria: “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.”
The consultation proposes that a ban would apply to drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre.
It would cover popular products like Red Bull and Monster, which are packed with caffeine.
One 250ml can of energy drink typically contains around 80mg of caffeine – the equivalent of nearly three cans of cola. Some energy drinks also contain exceptionally high levels of sugar.
On average, they have 60% more calories and 65% more sugar than other regular soft drinks.
Experts blame them for fuelling obesity and tooth decay among kids, with more than two thirds of 10-17-year-olds and a quarter of six-to-nine-year-olds guzzling energy drinks.
Potential punishments for shops which sell them to underage youngsters would be thrashed out later.
But officials expect local Trading Standards inspectors would enforce the restrictions, possibly using sting operations.
Sources pointed out businesses already operate age restriction policies for other products, such as alcohol, cigarettes, fireworks and scratch cards.
They believed age restrictions on sales of energy drinks should not cause “practical problems” for retailers.
Health officials welcomed the consultation on a ban, which would apply to England.
Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie said: “Children do not need energy drinks to get through the day – they offer nothing more than unnecessary sugar.
“Restricting the sale of these drinks is another bold step needed to turn the tide on childhood obesity.”
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health President, Professor Russell Viner, said: “There is no evidence that energy drinks have any nutritional value or place in the diet of children and young people.
“It’s therefore worrying that so many young people are buying these drinks at low prices and consuming them on a regular basis.
“The growing market for energy drinks and potential for harm to children and young people clearly warrants further scrutiny.
“That’s why we’re pleased to see Government take action on this and other measures to tackle childhood obesity and improve children’s health.”
Under the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, ministers will also consult on introducing calorie labelling on menus in restaurants, cafés and takeaways; curbing TV and online advertising restrictions on foods high in fat, salt and sugar; and restricting in-store promotions on unhealthy products.
The consultation comes seven months after a Tory MP tackled Mrs May over caffeine drinks at Prime Minister’s Questions.
In January, Maria Caulfield raised the case of scaffolder Justin Bartholomew, 25, of Newhaven, East Sussex, whose family blame his 15-a-day addiction to energy drinks for his suicide.
Ms Caulfield said Justin’s family believed high-energy drinks had made his anxiety worse and contributed to his death.
The latest triumph for the Mirror, which has highlighted pleas to restrict access of energy drinks to children, comes hot on the heels of announcements the Government will go ahead with Max’s Law to move to an opt-out system of organ donations in England, and of Lucy’s Law, to outlaw puppy farms – both of which were major Mirror campaigns.
But one senior Minister hit out that Government policy has been reduced to “a ban a day”.
They fumed: “Every day, something else banned. It’s just so depressing.”
Confirming the consultation would lead to a ban, a Government source said: “It is a question of how, not whether, we do it”.
National Obesity Forum chairman Tam Fry said: “It is astounding that the government feels that a consultation is required.
“It has been told for years that these drinks a quite unsuitable for children even if they play a lot of sports.
“We need a Government that leads rather than going cap in hand to the court of popular approval since your average man-in-the-street knows little of the danger that these drinks are to young people.
“If there is anything to be said in support of the announcement, it is that that N0 10 has finally recognised that children are children until they reach age 18.”