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Bellone signs bills to curb energy drinks

Paul Larocco

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Friday signed two bills to limit the availability of energy drinks to minors, making the county among the first in the nation to regulate the popular caffeinated products.

The measures, approved by the county legislature last month, ban the sale or distribution of energy drinks to people younger than 18 at county parks and beaches and prohibit the mailing of free samples and coupons to minors.

Beverage industry lobbyists had pressured Bellone to veto the measures, arguing that they unfairly targeted safe products that have less caffeine than similar-sized coffees. But health advocates, including the measures' sponsor, Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), said research shows that drinking more than recommended amounts of the drinks can lead to elevated heart rates and even death.

In recent years, the industry has agreed to label some energy drinks with warnings that they're not recommended for children and removed them from schools, while insisting that they pose no health risks.

"Just as even the energy drink industry agrees children should not be purchasing energy drinks in our schools, Suffolk County is now saying they should not be purchasing them in our parks," Bellone said. "This legislation represents a common-sense measure."

The American Beverage Association said it was disappointed Bellone signed the measures.

"Public policy should be based on facts and science, and these Suffolk County laws are based on neither," the association said in a statement.

Opponents have said they may sue to block enactment of the laws, scheduled to occur next month after they are filed with the state.