OPINION – Time to take action on dangerous drink

Like many Victorian mums and dads, my husband and I have spent many Friday and Saturday nights waiting for our kids to come home safely from a party or a night out in the city.

As parents, we worry about the effects of alcohol on young people. We worry about the impact alcohol can have on their judgement, their health and their safety.

Our fears are compounded when we see dangerous products on the shelves of bottle shops marketed towards our young people.

I am deeply concerned by the aggressive new tactics being employed by a local corporate subsidiary in the formulation and marketing of one of the most dangerous alcoholic beverages imaginable – caffeinated alcopops.

These things are monster alcopops, targeted straight at our kids.

A 2010 article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine entitled “Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages: An Emerging Public Health Problem” by Jonathan Howland and others makes for very disturbing reading. The article shows that bar patrons who consumed caffeinated alcoholic beverages had a threefold risk of leaving the bar highly intoxicated, compared to those who consumed alcohol without caffeine, and a fourfold risk of intending to drive after leaving the bar.

Another study concluded that students who consumed caffeinated alcoholic beverages has approximately double the risk of experiencing or committing sexual assault, riding with an intoxicated driver, having an alcohol-related accident, or requiring medical treatment.

In the United States, multiple states have banned caffeinated alcoholic beverages and the Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings to four companies to remove their products from the marketplace. The FDA’s key concern was that these products led to young drinkers entering a state of “wide-awake drunk”.

The Australian Medical Association is calling for legislation to ban alcoholic energy drinks and the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy has tasked the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs to urgently develop a plan of action.  

Responsible corporate citizens like Fosters and Lion Nathan no longer produce these diabolical drinks, choosing to pre-empt the findings of the taskforce and take the safest possible course of action. I cannot commend them enough for this decision.  

Independent Distillers agreed to stop marketing its caffeinated product – Pulse – until the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs makes its recommendations, however it has since been taken over by alcohol giant Asahi, which has chosen not to honour this commitment.

Independent Distillers and Asahi have now trashed the agreement to not aggressively market these turbo-charged alcopops while Government conducts its critical research. In fact, Pulse has been reformulated, with new flavours added, and is now being aggressively relaunched with more shelf space in bottle shops than ever.

The Asahi-Independent Pulse product is even worse than typical caffeinated alcopops, because it contains South American Guarana, added specifically to keep drinkers awake and drinking more when they should be sleeping off their intoxication. It’s no wonder there’s a Facebook page called “Pulse – Vodka energy drink, it makes me drunk AND hypo”.

This was brought home in such a tragic way in the trial late last year of 17 year old Cameron Lowe’s killer. In that trial, it was revealed that the killer, who has not been named due to his age, had consumed no less than 15 Pulse caffeinated alcopops manufactured by Independent Distillers.

Typically, there is no way an underage person could consume 15 standard alcoholic beverages, they would pass out. And herein lies the true evil of caffeinated alcopops – they are specifically designed to keep you awake and consuming more and more.

You would think that one death would be enough for Asahi to withdraw this dangerous product, especially given all the independent research outlining the dangers of caffeinated alcopops.

But then there is the tragic story of Sara Milosevic. She bought a four-pack of Pulse on the way to a party in Cheltenham. After drinking three cans in a bit over an hour, Sara was feeling good. But soon after starting her fourth, she started to vomit. Her parents picked her up at around 11:30pm fearing she may have had too much to drink.

Sara was dead three hours later.

The Minister for Health David Davis has stated that he is now waiting for the Intergovernmental Committee to do something before the Baillieu Government considers acting.

Let us be clear. Asahi’s license to manufacture alcohol in Victoria is granted by the Victorian Government. How many more have to die before the Baillieu Government acts?

The Premier and his Health Minister must stop sitting on their hands and ensure that Asahi and Independent honour their word given prior to the Asahi takeover and stop the wilful poisoning of our children by ending this product immediately.

Parents across Victoria will continue spending their Friday and Saturday nights waiting for their kids, always with the natural parental concern for their safety.

The Baillieu Government has it within its power to help parents rest easier.

Judith Graley is the State Labor Member for Narre Warren South