The Prince Edward Island Medical Society in Canada will vote Saturday on a proposal to ask the province to ban the sale of energy drinks to young people.
The vote follows concerns expressed by some school officials about the effects of the drinks on students.
In August, a small study out of Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital showed that energy drinks boosted heart rates and blood pressure levels. The researchers warned that people with high blood pressure should avoid such drinks.
Energy drinks, only recently available on the Island following the lifting of the ban on flavoured, carbonated beverages in cans, have varying amounts of caffeine: from less than the level found in a cup of coffee to much, much more. Some Island doctors are concerned about the effect of the drinks, especially on children.
"We have reports of young students showing up to class after the noon break in a highly jittery, agitated state. And some of them have to be sent home," Dr. Jerry O'Hanley chair of the health care and promotions committee of the Medical Society, told CBC News on Thursday.
O'Hanley admits it's difficult to prove the drinks are bad for children's health, and assistant chief health officer Dr. Lamont Sweet agrees the scientific evidence isn't there.
Sweet said it could be difficult to enforce a ban on the drinks for kids, but noted some European countries have banned certain high-energy drinks. He said the potential side effects of the drinks — such as hyperactivity, nausea and vomiting in some cases, outweigh any benefits for children.
"I wish there were a situation where we could just say we can't have them at all and that's really going to solve the problem of the younger children as well," said Sweet.
"Not that they wouldn't be brought in by other means, but my preference would be let's not have them at all."
Sweet said the health department is talking about the drinks, but no decision has been made yet.
A CBC television reporter spoke with several students who said they downed the caffeinated drinks with the regularity many adults save for coffee.
"It gets you going in the morning," said one young man. "I drink it pretty much just for the energy rush," added Grade 9 student Malcolm Coady.
Some teens acknowledged the drinks had become a habit.
"They pump you up and they are really addictive," said Amy Kinsella.
For those reasons, Seana Evans-Renaud, the principal of Souris Regional High School, has mounted a campaign to stop the energy drinks from flowing so freely.
"We have requested that the government ban the sale of energy drinks to anybody under the age of 18," said Evans-Renaud.
The market for so-called high-energy drinks has exploded from being worth $200 million five years ago to $1 billion last year. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the energy drink market is the hottest segment in the beverage sector since bottled water.
The drinks come branded with names like Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and Full Throttle and are accompanied by hip YouTube commercials targeting the young male market. They advertise the drinks as a way to improve performance.
According to Agriculture Canada, those marketing efforts have been so successful that some experts suggest these products will replace coffee for an entire generation of consumers.
Teens are buying in despite the high prices, which are usually about double the price of a coffee or a soft drink. Some students told CBC TV that they drank two to three cans a day.
The problem, health officials say, is the drinks are loaded with caffeine. A person would have to eat five and half chocolate bars or drink four cans of cola in one sitting to ingest the amount of caffeine found in just one of these drinks.
According to energyfiend.com, a 245-ml can of Red Bull contains 80 mg of caffeine. A 473-ml can of Full Throttle contains 144 mg, and the ultimate, a 444-ml can of Rockstar Roasted has 222 mg of caffeine. That compares to 100 mg of caffeine found in a small Tim Horton's coffee.
Teens who drink lots of this stuff may find the energy boost they get comes with side-effects, including possibly heart palpitations, said Dr. Tracey Bridger, a pediatric endocrinologist with the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre in Newfoundland.
"They might feel a bit of the caffeine rush at the beginning, but very quickly they would have all symptoms such as the headaches, the upset stomach, the fatigue, the jitteriness," said Dr. Bridger.