msnbc.com news services
updated 10/7/2011 12:37:09 PM ET 2011-10-07T16:37:09

Canada is introducing rules to limit the amount of caffeine allowed in energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster Energy but won't classify them as stimulative drug products that can only be sold in pharmacies.

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Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Thursday they will cap caffeine at 180 milligrams per drink, about as much as a medium cup of coffee.

The drinks will also have to clear labels that list the amounts of caffeine, vitamins and other ingredients. They will also have to carry a warning that they are not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women and should not be mixed with alcohol.

The changes are more lenient than the recommendations proposed by an expert panel the government called upon. The panel wanted to treat the drinks as medication, label them as "stimulant drug-containing drinks" and allow sales only from behind the pharmacist's counter.

"I believe it's up to individuals and parents to make their own decisions when it comes to what they eat and drink," Aglukkaq said in a statement.

Energy drinks had been classified as "natural health products" but the government has now reclassified them as foods, with full labeling requirements.

Caffeine will be limited to 180 milligrams in a single serving, a level that Health Canada said is comparable to the amount in a medium cup of coffee.

The limit is high enough that it will not make a difference for many energy drinks. A 250 ml (8.4 oz) can of Red Bull Energy Drink, for example, has 80 mg of caffeine. That's less than a typical cup of coffee but about twice as much as a normal cola.

The panel said that the interaction that caffeine may have with other ingredients in energy drinks - ingredients not found in run-of-the-mill coffee - is not yet well understood.

Seven million energy drinks are sold in Canada every month, according to government estimates.

The fast-growing energy drink market is dominated by Red Bull, Rockstar and Hansen Natural's Monster Energy and certain other brands. Coca-Cola Co , PepsiCo Inc and other soft drink companies have their own energy drinks.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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