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Jamie Oliver urges restricting energy drinks to age 16 and older

TORONTO — Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is urging a ban on selling energy drinks to children, and wants to see the products regulated like cigarettes.
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TORONTO — Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is urging a ban on selling energy drinks to children, and wants to see the products regulated like cigarettes.

The British author and TV star says the caffeinated beverages carry a host of health risks for kids and teens, who he says use them to get "a legal high."

Oliver takes aim at manufacturers who use kid-friendly graphics and bright colours in their advertising, and retailers for targeting sales displays to school kids.

He says the drinks are unnecessary and disrupt learning as well as health.

Oliver's comments come a week after the Canadian Paediatric Society released a formal statement discouraging kids younger than 18 from using sports or energy drinks.

Caffeinated energy drinks claim to boost energy, reduce fatigue and improve concentration. The amount of caffeine typically exceeds Health Canada's maximum daily intake for kids.

Oliver called for restrictions on the age of anyone who purchases them, similar to the regulations on cigarette sales. The legal age to buy tobacco in Canada varies between 18 and 19 depending on the province or territory.

"If you say, 'Let's be really honest, who thinks a six and seven-year-old should have an energy drink? Eight? Nine? 10? 11?' You ain't going to get no hands in the air until (you say age) 17, 18," Oilver said Tuesday from London.

Oliver also took aim at retailers for "strategically hunting out these kids."

"Managers at supermarkets will change the whole front of a supermarket metro, a small supermarket, based on whether the kids are at school or not," says the father of five.

"And if the kids are at school, you've just got energy and sports drinks everywhere and you can't see any food. And then the minute they're off school it turns back to food again."

The outspoken health critic, who has also led high-profile campaigns in Britain to reduce childhood obesity, says there's a correlation between the use of energy drinks and skipping breakfast.

He applauded Canada's paediatric society for taking a stand, and said he was heartened by what seems to be a commitment by Ottawa to tackle child health.

Oliver said he spoke by phone to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this year about implementing a tax on soft drinks, a proposal he successfully campaigned for in Britain.

"Your government is kind of looking like it's putting a childhood obesity strategy together that might be more robust than most countries in the world," Oliver said of political appetite for a sugar tax in Canada.

"The rhetoric seems to be better in Canada but we're kind of waiting for the moment."

Oliver's new show "Jamie's Quick and Easy Food" starts Oct. 25 on Gusto, while a new book, "5 Ingredients," hits shelves Oct. 24.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press