Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Sunday, 7 February 2010

Call to cut caffeine in alcohol

Bottle of Buckfast
Labour suggested there should be limits on drinks like Buckfast

Scottish Labour has called for legal limits on the amount of caffeine in alcoholic drinks such as Buckfast.

The party's call came ahead of the launch of its alcohol commission, which aims to find ways to tackle Scotland's record of drink-related violence.

Labour has opposed Scottish government plans for a minimum price per unit of alcohol but said its commission would be allowed to consider the move.

Ministers said the Labour move showed "blatant disregard" for parliament.

The alcohol commission, being chaired by education expert Prof Sally Brown, will be asked to consider how much caffeine - a psychoactive stimulant - should be allowed in drinks.

Obsessing about Buckfast, which accounts for 0.5% of alcohol sold in Scotland, ignores the elephant in the room, which is the excessive consumption of cheap alcohol
Nicola Sturgeon
Scottish health secretary

Strathclyde Police recently told BBC Scotland that Buckfast, a fortified wine with a high caffeine content, was mentioned in 5,000 crime reports over three years.

Scottish Labour said Buckfast contained 281mg per 750ml bottle (37.5mg per 100ml) - as much as eight standard (355ml) cans of cola.

Another caffeinated drink, Red Square Reloaded, contained 420mg of caffeine per litre (42mg per 100ml).

Labour pointed to the 150mg per litre limit set in Denmark, Iceland and Norway.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "I believe the risks involved in consuming caffeinated alcohol are so great that the Scottish government must take action.

"The research suggests you are more likely to end up in hospital or be assaulted if you drink these products."

Prof Brown told BBC Scotland's Politics Show the commission would take a wide-ranging look at the issues surrounding alcohol problems.

She added: "Just as I wouldn't be wanting to look at minimum unit pricing as the thing to solve it, I wouldn't want to look at Buckfast, or indeed even caffeine, as the other bullet that might solve it."

The commission's membership also includes Sam Galbraith, a former Labour minister for health in Scotland, Graeme Pearson, former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and Glasgow licensing board convener Stephen Dornan.

'Scaremongering' claim

The commission, which will also look at the enforcement of existing laws, aims to influence the government's Alcohol Bill, with a report due in the summer.

It is also expected to consider issues arising from the use of caffeinated soft drinks as mixers.

Ms Baillie reiterated Labour's position on minimum pricing - a policy which has encountered strong opposition support.

She said: "The [Scottish Parliament's] health and sport committee will be looking in detail at those arguments - should the commission wish to look at that I'm not going to be stopping them - but frankly the bulk of it will be on alternative pricing mechanisms."

J. Chandler & Co, which is distributes Buckfast on behalf of Benedictine monks from a monastery in Devon, said it would give evidence to the commission.

Drunk woman - generic
The government's Alcohol Bill is currently going through parliament

The distributor's spokesman, Jim Wilson, accused Labour of "scaremongering".

The Scottish government said evidence on the link between caffeinated alcohol and harm was "inconclusive".

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, said: "This is a smokescreen to hide a blatant disregard for parliament, which is the proper place to debate the issues around the Alcohol Bill - not a hand-picked talking shop designed to delay and distract.

"Obsessing about Buckfast, which accounts for 0.5% of alcohol sold in Scotland, ignores the elephant in the room, which is the excessive consumption of cheap alcohol that's fuelling health and social problems and costing Scotland billions every year."

Lib Dem justice spokesman Robert Brown said: "We need to look at ways to change Scotland's drinking culture effectively.

"More understanding is needed about why young people start drinking- whether Buckfast, beer or alcopops- in the first place.

"Simply banning one or the other will not do the trick."

BMA Scotland chairman Dr Brian Keighley urged the alcohol commission not to dismiss minimum pricing.

He added: "Surely the point of establishing an independent commission is to enable them to consider all the evidence and reach a conclusion based on what is most effective in reducing alcohol-related deaths and social harm."

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