Islamabad: Pakistan’s largest province has ordered energy-drink manufacturers including Red Bull to remove the word “energy” from their labels, saying it is scientifically misleading and encourages a population unaware of the beverages’ contents to guzzle them in potentially dangerous quantities.
The order comes amid an international regulatory pushback against the highly caffeinated fizzy drink market, and is believed to be the first in the world to censor the term “energy” — a key part of the drinks’ appeal.
According to the scientific advisory panel of the Punjab Food Authority, a regulatory body overseeing the province of 110 million people, the word is a misnomer. The panel said rather than provide the body with nutritional energy, the large quantities of caffeine, taurine and guarana contained in energy-drinks simply stimulate the swift release of existing reserves.
“In TV commercials [drinkers] throw huge tires, they keep running and running,” the PFA’s director, Noorul Ameen Mengal, told the Guardian. “These adverts are misleading our illiterate population.”
Following an aggressive marketing campaign in Pakistan, people seeking to become body-builders, for example, have been known to drink several cans at once, added a PFA spokesman. Some end up hospitalised, he said.
Under the PFA’s order, makers of energy drinks have until the end of the year to replace the word “energy” with “stimulant” on their labels, and add a series of warnings in Urdu, the national language, against consumption by pregnant women and children under the age of 12.
The PFA has also demanded that energy drink manufacturers, who sell around 312 million cans each year in Punjab, must limit caffeine to 200 parts per million, around half the amount that Red Bull currently contains.
Pakistan has particular incentive to clip the industry’s wings, Mengal said. A 2017 study showed energy-drinks also increase blood pressure five times more than an equivalent amount of caffeine delivered via coffee, and Pakistan has one of the highest rates of heart disease worldwide.
After “marathon” consultation with the industry, most manufacturers have agreed to comply with the new regulations, the PFA said. Last year Turkey limited soft-drink caffeine levels to 150ppm and following the publication of a study warning of potentially adverse health effects British supermarkets, including Tesco, Waitrose and Aldi, no longer sell energy-drinks to customers under the age of 16 .
A spokesperson for Red Bull said: “As a responsible international company, Red Bull complies with all relevant laws affecting its product in each of the 170 countries across the world in which it is on sale.”