Monday 27 January 2014

The Hidden Menace

Whilst this post is obviously satire, the arguments I use and the points made are all commonly levelled at e-cigarettes. I hope that by turning these same arguments against something so totally innocuous as a nice cuppa tea to highlight to the uninitiated just how weak the arguments really are.

Dear Sir/Madam 
I would like to draw your attention to a situation that has gone under the radar for too long. Businesses up and down the country are, to this day, allowing this situation to continue, and are in many cases misguidedly encouraging it by providing and in some cases even allowing its consumption at the heart of the workplace, potentially risking the health not only of the person consuming it, but of those innocent people who have its effects forced upon them. 
I am of course talking about tea. 
It has often been seen as a traditional and welcome part of our country's heritage, something that we look forward to using, and something that we regard as being inherently British. But is it all that it seems? 
We think not. 
Tea is an infusion of the dried leaves of the plant Camellia Sinensis, a plant originating in China but now to be found growing in many countries around the world such as the poorer parts of India. Its production is entirely unregulated. No license is required to grow the plants, no regulation governs what chemical treatments are added to the plants during their growth, no regulatory inspection mechanisms protect us from any diseases in the organic matter harvested from them, and no legal framework is in place to prevent contamination during manufacture and transportation. This is an immediate cause for concern, as it cannot be guaranteed that the product users are buying is free from harmful, and potentially carcinogenic contaminants. We believe that this constitutes an immediate and very worrying threat to our health. 
The dried leaves are powdered, and contained in what its users call a "tea bag", which is then placed in a "tea pot" or sometimes directly into a drinking vessel, where scalding hot water is poured over it. The tea is then left for several minutes to "steep", a process by which a chemical cocktail is drawn from the "tea bag" and into the water. This cocktail is known to contain tannin, a bitter, astringent biomolecule, the stimulants theobromine and theophylline, the amino acid L-theanine which modulates caffeine's psychoactive effect as well as the drug caffeine itself, which can constitute up to 3% of the plant material. 
Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid and a stimulant drug. Due to its effects as a central nervous system stimulant, it raises heart rate and blood pressure, and can cause muscle spasms and sleep disorders. In doses over 1 gram, it can be fatal to adults. Much research is now showing a link with certain types of cancer, and to its addictive nature leading to substance dependence in its users. Withdrawal symptoms include headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate, drowsiness, insomnia, and pain in the stomach, upper body, and joints as well as increased depression and anxiety, nausea and vomiting. 
The resulting liquid is then commonly mixed with milk and sugar. We are concerned that the inclusion of sugar will increase its attraction to children, and that the usage of such items as soft toy monkeys in the tea industries advertisements and marketing is directly targeting children. A strong regulatory approach is required to stop this practice. 
Unbelievably, this toxic broth is then given to children as young as 12 - sometimes by the childs own parents. 
Tea is a hot beverage, and as such emits a strongly odoured vapour from its surface. There have been no long-term studies to suggest that the vapour is safe, and we are concerned that continuing to allow its use in the workplace and public places may cause second-hand drinking effects - innocent people who have never used tea in their lives are being unwillingly exposed to its vapour, and the unknown risks that may incur. We strongly urge for more studies to be performed in this area. 
We are also concerned that drinking this substance in public and in the workplace may renormalise alcoholic beverage usage, due to its resemblance to drinking spirits. Concerns have been raised that this has lead to tea becoming a gateway to alcohol abuse, with several studies showing that a majority of alcohol users started drinking tea before moving to beer and in many cases substances like whisky and brandy. The Governments Office for National Statistics found that alcohol was responsible for the deaths of 8,748 people in the UK in 2011 alone. It is vital that the successful process of denormalising alcohol consumption continues, and tea usage may be extremely harmful to those efforts. 
Currently, tea is unregulated. We consider this drug riddled infusion to be extremely harmful and urge you to contact your MP and demand its immediate classification as a pharmaceutical product, and its regulation as a medicine. We would also urge you to disallow its use on your companies premises until such time as it has been proven to be safe. 
Above all else, we must protect children from it. Your letters and emails may save a child's life. Please help us. 
On behalf of the National Union of Tea Studies Organisations (N.U.T.S.O)

First published on, 12/11/13