BEIRUT: Your face is planted on the bar and the thumping beat in your ear is loud enough to wake the dead. Meanwhile, your goofy, inebriated buddy chats up the pretty blonde in the purple dress you had your eye on earlier.
The blonde’s had enough of your plastered pal and reaches down to wake you from your drunken semi-slumber.
“Mama?” you respond. Bad move, bro. A smack across the face is all you’re going home with tonight as the blonde hastily takes her leave. Should have had a Buzz energy vodka mix to keep you lit.
Or so the marketing people at Buzz and other caffeinated alcoholic beverage (CAB) companies would lead you to believe. But while CABs are marketed as a product that will give you a kick when your eyelids start to get heavy, doctors and nutritionists believe otherwise.
“Caffeine does not counteract the effects of alcohol,” Magdalena Roumy Yammine, head dietician and owner of Diet Delights Nutrition Center told The Daily Star.
“It’s not true [that CABs make you] more alert; instead you are three times more likely to binge drink because the caffeine camouflages the intoxicating effect,” Yammine says.
“You will get intoxicated at the same rate but seem more alert,” she adds. “Instead [of being re-energized] you will be doubly dehydrated.”
Hala al-Hout from the Health Ministry agrees: “Caffeine is an upper and has a very short half-life. It [dissipates] before the effects of the alcohol [which leads to the consumption of a] high concentration of alcohol [causing the consumer to] become drunk.”
The Health Ministry – which handles issues related to energy drinks – under Minister Ali Hassan Khalil has proposed a law to regulate the mixing of alcohol with caffeine in energy drinks. The issue has been taken up for further study by the Economy and Trade Ministry – responsible for all alcohol imports into Lebanon – which will decide whether or not to regulate CABs.
According to Ali Berro, director of the quality unit at the Economy and Trade Ministry, “Minister Nicolas Nahas is very much concerned about the risks involved ... in consuming caffeinated alcoholic beverages in Lebanon."
“The few countries that allow [CABs] ... make sure the amount of alcohol is regulated within acceptable norms of around 5 percent and also [that] the caffeine is .02 percent. The vast majority of CABs contain more, which is dangerous.”
In fact, according to information provided by Lebanon’s Economy Ministry, CABs are banned in Italy, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden as well as a few states in the United States. In Australia as well as 26 states in the U.S., efforts are afoot to ban the drinks completely. In Austria, all CABs are banned except for one which uses a mixture of ginseng and guarana in place of caffeine, with alcoholic content limited to a maximum of 5 percent. In Denmark, CABs as well as regular energy drinks are banned entirely.
The Daily Star took a look at various CABs nutritional facts and found an average of 19-25 mg of elevated caffeine content per 100 ml serving. Since an individual can is 250 ml, this means that an average serving contains between 47.5-62.5 mg of elevated caffeine content. The alcoholic content is 10-12 percent.
Dr. Berro said statistics have shown that between 2002 and 2008, consumption of CABs in Lebanon increased “67 fold”. The reason? “Advertisements,” he says.
Berro claims that these advertisements are directed at Lebanon’s youth: “Young teenagers and the young population [are being targeted] and in lots of cases it was sold to people [as young as] 12 years old.
“In some cases there is misleading advertisements and the wrong message is sent to consumers. [CABs are] claiming effects that are not proved at all,” Berro adds.
“One of them tries to send the message that if you use this, your strength and sexual capabilities increase.”
In an email exchange with The Daily Star, Monique Bassila Zaarour, manager of So7i Wa Sari3, an umbrella title for a variety of leading health and nutrition services in Lebanon, noted that CABs “promise not only to provide ‘energy’ but also boost libido and provide ‘a second wind’ for all night partying. Those promises are just marketing tools without any scientific base.”
In fact, the American Society of Addiction Medicine has published a study stating that a night on the town involving high consumption of CABs won’t lead to increased strength or sexual capabilities but may create a number of health complications. These complications include increased blood pressure, increased anxiety, gastric acidity, insomnia, bowel irritability, panic attacks and fainting.
With such negative effects on people’s health, banning these products would seem to be the obvious right move to make, but Nayef Kassatly, a managing partner with Kassatly Chtaura (producer of Buzz Energy Vodka Mix), argues otherwise.
“The demand for this product is very high and if it gets banned people will still mix energy drinks with vodka,” Kassatly told The Daily Star via telephone. “The difference is we regulate the caffeine whereas a normal (nonalcoholic) energy drink has 8 times the amount.”
Kassatly says the caffeine content of Buzz is 0.025 percent. On the subject of alcoholic content, Kassatly describes Buzz as being about one-third vodka, “the same as any drink mixed at home.” Since vodka itself is approximately 40 percent alcohol, the total alcoholic content of Buzz, as indicated by the label on the can, is 10.2 percent.
Kassatly also highlights Buzz’s commitment to emphasizing responsible use of their product.
“There are notices on the can that say it’s not good for kids under 18 and ‘Drink Responsibly,’” Kassatly says.
“We cannot stop it so we try to control it,” he adds. “People want [to drink CABs] whether we like it or not.”
Kassatly says that Buzz follows all current laws and regulations and gears their product exclusively to consumers above 18 years of age. “We target clubbers, people in nightclubs and out in the night scene,” he says.
However, he warns that consumers should be careful drinking Buzz and not “exceed one to two cans a night.”
Berro says Minister Nahas will make a decision “soon” about how to regulate the availability and sale of CABs based on “scientific and market research.”
“Our youth and consumers are the most important thing to the minister,” asserts Berro. “He doesn’t want to harm trade, but [only] as long as it is safe for our consumers and young generation.”
Berro adds: “When it comes to harm, he won’t accept that.”
Kassatly, for one, hopes the ban does not go through.
“In my opinion the best solution would be to maintain this drink category ... but impose the necessary warnings on the cans.
“Banning it can lead to a ban on all alcohol. If you ban alcohol, it won’t be Lebanon anymore,” he says.