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New Legislation Prohibits Suffolk Kids From Purchasing Energy Drinks

Vickie Moller

Despite fierce resistance by the beverage industry, Suffolk lawmakers Tuesday night approved three bills, sponsored by Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) that will prohibit the sale of energy drinks to kids under 18 at county parks and beaches.

The legislation, that Spencer is calling the “nation's first comprehensive energy/stimulant education and protection plan,” would also limit direct marketing efforts of these products to minors.

The ban on the sale of energy drinks at county parks and beaches passed 11-4, with several abstentions; the ban on marketing the drinks to minors through coupons and free-samples passed 16-0; and a measure that encourages local students to submit videos about the alleged health dangers of the drinks was approved 14-1.

“Far too many people are unaware of the effects excessive caffeine consumption can have on the body,” Spencer said. “Excessive consumption of caffeine can aggravate pre-existing conditions and contribute to a variety of health problems. My plan levels the playing field and will create an open and fair dialogue about these products so parents and children can decide whether or not to ingest these drinks.”

Health advocates say energy drinks, which contain the additives guarana and taurine, among others, can cause elevated heart rates, higher blood pressure, dizziness and even death.

The beverage industry strongly disagrees, saying the drinks contain less caffeine than similar servings of coffee, and that their additives don't enhance the caffeine effects to dangerous levels.

Matthew Vishnick, a lobbyist representing 5-Hour Energy, called the ban "unconstitutional and unjustified," and said the drinks contain no banned substances and could be safer than the hot dogs sold at parks. He called opposing studies inconclusive and added, “If energy drinks were so harmful, we'd have definitive evidence."

The new measures will prohibit concession stands at county-owned parks, along with vendors selling food and drinks at summer events held at county parks, from selling the popular energy drinks to minors. County-owned golf courses will be subject to the same regulations.

The legislation also prohibits energy drink companies from marketing to minors by providing free samples or coupons to children at sports tournaments, concerts or other special events held anywhere throughout Suffolk.

The bill also calls for the enactment of “The Truth About Stimulant Drinks” program, asking middle school and high school students to participate in a competition to create a public safety announcement on the dangers of energy drinks. The winning submission will air on a local cable television channel.

Legis. Lynne Nowick (R-St. James) introduced a measure in 2010 aimed at banning the sale of all energy drinks to minors countywide but withdrew it after the industry agreed to label its products as not being recommended for children.

"This is the beginning," Nowick said Tuesday. "There is much more that we can do."

The legislation becomes effective within 60 days of being signed by County Executive Steve Bellone and being filed with the state.