Opinion: The Red Bull myth

POSTED: 06/1/12 12:21 PM

Whether the acquittal of bar manager Ester van Kippersluis will go on the books uncontested is an open question at the moment, because the Public Prosecutor’s Office is contemplating its option to appeal Wednesday’s verdict.

Van Kippersluis was arrested on April 30 on suspicion of drunk driving. The arrest was a messy affair and the court has put the blame for the mess for the time being at the doorstep of the arresting officer.

Van Kippersluis, s 32-year old Dutchwoman who said on Wednesday that she would leave the island and never come back, caused quite a ruckus at the police station after her arrest. Or the police officers cause the drama. For the time being the latter possibility is the favorite of the court, but the prosecutor’s office may take the case to the Appeals Court for obvious reasons.

First of all, it looks now as if the arresting officers lied in the reports they wrote about the incident. Whether Van Kippersluis was under the influence of alcohol could not be established according to the court.

That’s because the police has for some unknown reason no breathalyzers, and the officers in charge on April 30 refused to give Van Kippersluis a blood test.

In court, the defendant said that she had consumed one vodka-Red Bull that day around noon. The rest of the afternoon she had been drinking Red Bull. The question now under consideration is whether overconsumption of an energy drink like Red Bull could lead to aggressive and or erratic behavior.

Everybody who ever took the trouble of reading the label on energy drink cans knows what the main ingredients are: caffeine, sugar, taurine, guarana seed extract and, in some cases, ginseng.

The concerns about energy drinks are first and foremost directed towards its caffeine content. That’s especially a risk for children under the age of 12, who should not consume more than 2.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilo bodyweight. For kids with a normal weight (around 34 kilos) this means that 85 milligram is the limit, and that is below the content of one energy drink.

The combination of red Bull and vodka is popular, but also a risky one, experts say. The caffeine booster in the energy drink masks the intake of alcohol (for the consumer). That could lead to drinking more, to getting drunk, and to problems in traffic, in relationships and – dare we say this? – with the police. Of course, this only applies to people who combine Red Bull with alcohol endlessly. Van Kippersluis told the court she had downed one vodka-Red Bull and afterwards only Red Bull.

That could lead, again according to experts, to an overdose of caffeine. An intake above 300 to 400 milligram could lead to palpitation of the heart, nervousness, shaking, unrest, shivers, feelings of fear and sleeplessness.

So the Red Bull could indeed have made the defendant nervous and restless. But it still does not explain the alleged aggression towards police officers.

The way we see it, there are only two options. The first one is favored by the court: the officers were overly aggressive towards a nervous and restless detainee. The second one is pure conjecture: the defendant consumed vodka-Red Bull all day long and was therefore drunk as a skunk. Even if that were true – and we are absolutely not saying this is so – there is no way to prove it. That’s because there are no breathalyzers.

That begs the question: why not? These things don’t cost the earth and at least they produce an objective measure of someone’s alcohol-intake.

If anything further comes of the Van Kippersluis-case, apart from a thorough investigation into the behavior of the police officers, it ought to be this: breathalyzers in every police car.

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