10/06/2011 04:48 EDT | Updated 12/05/2011 05:12 EST

Dangers of energy drinks' high caffeine levels to be cited in new rules

OTTAWA - Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq will be announcing new rules for so-called energy drinks this morning.

She is concerned about teenagers and tweens consuming too much caffeine by downing drinks such as Monster and Red Bull.

The drinks were the subject of a panel of experts who convened to examine the dangers of caffeine-loaded beverages, and advise the government on how to better control them.

“Many of these newer ‘energy’ drinks are, in reality, oral delivery systems for stimulant drugs such as caffeine,” their report says.

The panel issued a series of hard-hitting recommendations that would make the drinks very difficult for youngsters to consume, but Aglukkaq’s officials say the minister will take a more “balanced” approach with her new rules.

The plan will warn parents and teenagers alike about the dangers of drinking high amounts of caffeine, but will still allow for consumer choice, said one senior official.

“Our plan tomorrow is, we believe, going to be a balanced plan. It’s going to focus on giving parents and all people more information,” he said.

The panel, however, recommended that the energy drinks in question be sold to adults only, and from behind the pharmacists’ counter at drug stores.

It also said the beverages should be labelled “stimulant drug-containing drinks.”

And it recommended the government make an effort to differentiate caffeine-laden drinks from sports drinks such as Gatorade and other electrolyte-replacement beverages that are considered safe for children.

The caffeinated energy drinks have taken off in recent years, with various brands multiplying on store shelves. Health Canada has estimated that about seven million of them are consumed every month in Canada.

They usually contain about the same amount of caffeine as a couple of cups of coffee, but the effects on teenagers, and the effects of the drinks when mixed with alcohol, have not been properly explored, the panel said.

The drinks need to be considered a drug, not a food, the report urged.

“In the absence of real therapeutic and medically indicated benefits, the panel considers that the risks associated with the use of these drugs outweigh the benefits,” it stated.