Buyers' market

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

It's a life lesson for one youth and a warning to all parents.

After completing a shopping trip for a litany of supplements and stimulants, our 13-year-old subject is asked what he'd discovered from the exercise.

"I've learned it's easy to get a lot of stuff I shouldn't."

To find out how easy it is for today's youths to buy items such as creatine, ephedra, protein and caffeine, we had a boy -- who looks no older than his 13 years -- go on a shopping spree.

It is a field trip without any parental presence.

None of the items are illegal to sell to minors, so the true test is what reaction our teen will receive and whether shopkeepers will deny him from buying certain products.

With list in hand, he heads to a mall supplement shop to purchase Item No. 1: Creatine.

Our subject knows only how to pronounce the muscle-builder, its cost and to say he heard about it from a friend. The only question he's asked is how he has heard of creatine. Not his age, not why he'd use it, not whether he has permission.

Before making the purchase, he asks whether there's an age restriction, like with cigarettes, but no alarms are raised.

All he's told while buying the tub -- $42.79 with GST -- is to mix it with water.

The only potential problem, he's told, is bloating.

"That was so easy, it's scary," says the kid, now much more confident about the rest of the exercise.

Now it's off to a health-food store for a tub of protein powder. A patron waiting at the till squeezes our subject's biceps as the transaction takes place, while the salesperson tells him: "You're in luck, too, because it's on sale."

From there, it's a trip to a convenience store for the highly caffeinated beverage Red Bull.

Allowed to be sold in Canada since June as a 'nutritional product,' the energy drink has become a hit, as have similar products from Sobe and Monster.

For about $3, plus tax and deposit, buying it is no problem.

Fourth on the list are caffeine pills, so it's off to the drug store for some Wake Ups. A box of 36 tablets, with 100 mg of caffeine in each (nearly the same amount as a cup of dripped coffee) is racked at eye level.

The package warns the pills are not to be taken with caffeinated beverages and no more than eight pills should be consumed in a 24-hour period.

Then comes the biggest warning, in capitalized letters, NOT TO BE GIVEN TO CHILDREN.

Yet, the lone question posed to our fresh-faced teen upon shelling out $6.94 for a box: "Do you want a bag for that?"

Our kid's job is almost done but first he must buy arguably the most dangerous product on the list, ephedra.

He says this could be the tough one to get his hands on -- after all, it's banned in the U.S. and by the International Olympic Committee.

It has been linked to heart attacks and strokes.

He walks into a health food store, asks for it at the counter and a bottle of tablets is soon in his pocket, for only $11.76.

"Is that all?" is the only question he's asked.

- - -

These stores didn't do anything illegal. Sale of these products to minors isn't unlawful here.

However, owners of supplement shops and health food store owners, as well as their workers, often swear they'd never sell products such as creatine and ephedra to youngsters.

They say they're willing to forego a sale because it's the right thing to do.

And maybe that's true.

But, on this shopping trip, it didn't happen once.


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