LE MONDE

Red Bull - The Making Of An Explosive Cocktail

A favorite of both fitness nuts and party animals, Red Bull has some reported side-effects. Now people have started mixing energy drinks with alcohol, adding to the potential toxicity. France, one of the last countries to approve its sale, asks if its rea

Let's spend the night together (homard.net)
Let's spend the night together (homard.net)
Pascale Santi

PARIS - Non-stop dancing, all night. For years, Jean-Christophe has been drinking Red Bull with vodka, five or six times per night.

This young IT consultant describes himself as a heavy consumer of Red Bull since he was 18 years old. Today he is 28 and drinks at least one can every night, "to be able to do 16 hours of computer programming a day." Used with marijuana, "it creates a sort of "trance."" As a result, he can stay up until 5 or 6 in the morning.

Eric, a former salesman, used to drive 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers every week. Sick of drinking coffee, he decided to try energy drinks instead. Then he started drinking one to four every day from Wednesday to Friday. "It helped me keep my rhythm and push back my limits." But one day he felt ill, with his legs going wobbly and an irregular heartbeat. That was three years ago, back when he was 27. His doctor attributed the problems to fatigue and stress. Several months later, he had another attack. "That time, I thought about my lifestyle and I hypothesized that energy drinks might be responsible. So I stopped drinking them, and I haven't experienced cardiac arrhythmia since."

Earlier this month, the French National Agency for Food Security (Anses) raised the alarm. Six cases of dangerous side effects (epilepsy, coma, tremors, anxiety) have been reported since 2009, including two deaths by cardiac arrest, for which the link with energy drinks is currently being evaluated. Since the Anses put out their alert, they "have been notified of six other occurrences which are currently being examined," explains Professor Irène Margaritis, head of nutrition risk evaluation at the Anses.

Feeling good on the dance floor

Vodka-Red Bull is the fashionable cocktail in nightclubs and among young people. Red Bull but also Monster, Dark Dog, Burn and Frelon Detox are all available in supermarkets or sports clubs. They are favorites of partygoers and fitness experts, night workers and video game addicts. "My Monster is my second life," says Emmanuel, a 21-year-old working student.

But like Eric, many of them have experienced undesirable side effects: heart problems for Emmanuel; slight dizziness, sweating, a heart that "beats so hard that I have a hard time recovering," for Karim, a student from Marseilles. Others talk about temporary and unusual depressions, "crashing" after the effects of the drink wears off.

After a night out drinking four or five cans of Red Bull, Sophie was in great shape despite having slept only three hours. Her parents found her agitated - her father is a doctor - and were worried. But she wasn't: "this drink helps me keep going. On weekends, you want to let go. After one or two cans, I really feel the difference on the dance floor."

France was one of the last countries to approve the sale of these energy drinks. In 2001, the Anses had expressed doubts on their innocuousness. But Red Bull and analogous drinks were authorized for sale in May 2008 thanks to the Economy Ministry's green light, and despite opposition from the Health Ministry.

"How many accidents will it take?" asks Doctor Laurent Chevallier, a nutritionist and member of the Health environment network. "These are not essential products. It is surprising the European Union hasn't taken any action."

Binge drinking

It is the alcohol-energy drink combination that worries the Anses the most. This explosive cocktail is associated with binge drinking, very popular among young people. "Teenagers use these energy drinks to drink more and longer," explains psychiatrist Xavier Pommereau, head of the teenage department at Bordeaux's hospital.

Because these drinks decrease the perception of alcohol's effects, doctors strongly advise against mixing the two. "Scientists are currently studying the toxicity of taurine when it is associated with alcohol," says Doctor Pommereau. In addition to taurine, these drinks contain "stimulating" ingredients such as caffeine, guarana, ginseng, vitamins or D-glucuronolactone (a potentially toxic substance).

But most young people believe "it isn't as toxic as amphetamines or ecstasy," says a Nantes public servant, for whom "the controversy around a few unproven cases is a real non-issue." Some consume these drinks to stay awake and don't see what's wrong. "The real danger for young people is that they start drinking huge amounts of strong alcohols at an early age," believes Paul, a 30-something Parisian.

"Since the beginning of the 2000s, there have been two new phenomenon: drinking alcohol at an increasingly young age, and binge drinking, especially for girls. I've seen 14-year-old girls with vodka bottles in their bag," says doctor Pommereau. Out of the 15 patients in his unit, two are 12 years old.

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo - homard.net

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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