CAMPAIGNERS against alcohol abuse and alcohol-fuelled crime yesterday urged MSPs to consider backing a Bill which could force the manufacturers of Buckfast to reduce its caffeine content.

Petrina Macnaughton, research and policy co-ordinator at Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the link between caffeinated alcohol and offending was “not conclusive”, but urged members of Holyrood’s Health Committee to limit caffeine after anecdotal evidence connecting it to anti-social behaviour in some parts of the country.

“In relation to caffeinated alcohol there is research that shows that among young offenders there is a high proportion that drink caffeinated drinks,” Macnaughton said.

“I think the evidence is indicative. It’s not conclusive, I agree, but the cost of implementing such a restriction on caffeine content I’m not sure would be that high.”

The measure to lower the limit of caffeine in some drinks, including Buckfast, is being put forward by Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson in his Member’s Bill, which also aims to restrict alcohol advertising in areas close to schools and parks in a bid to limit its exposure to children.

Under his proposals the amount of caffeine would be capped at a level agreed by the Scottish Government. Currently Denmark has an upper limit of 150 milligrams per litre of alcoholic drinks –

Buckfast contains more than double that level.

But yesterday, in the same committee session, other experts disagreed with Macnaughton’s stance and said the publicity given to Buckfast may have increased its notoriety and turned a potentially short-lived craze into the staple drink of young offenders.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Peter Rice, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, said: “The discussion around the tonic wines may, in fact, have made things worse. It may have established a reputation for a particular product which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“What might have been a short-lived craze has become a more long-lived craze.”

GP Dr Colette Maule of BMA Scotland and Alison Christie, policy officer of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, said they were less concerned about particular brands than the quantity of cheap alcohol consumed.

Maule said: “When I see patients in my surgery who are having problems with alcohol, it tends to be because it is lower-priced rather than because it particularly has caffeine in it.”

Christie added: “We don’t have any families concerned about particular brands or products, it’s about the volume and how accessible it is to buy it cheaply.”

Policy notes accompanying the Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill cite “a number of academic studies examining the effects of consuming alcohol in conjunction with caffeine” such as being “wired awake drunk” and taking more risks. The Scottish Prison Service found that 43.4 per cent of inmates had consumed Buckfast before their last offence, despite accounting for less than one per cent of total alcohol sales nationally.

But Rice said Buckfast is mostly a west coast problem which is not as prevalent elsewhere in Scotland and cited evidence which suggests it is the alcohol and not the caffeine that is the problem. Alcohol Focus Scotland also wants supermarkets and off-sales to be limited to how much alcohol they can sell at a discount.