Suffolk eyes ban on sale of energy drinks to teens

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Suffolk County is looking to ban the sale of energy drinks to teens.

Suffolk teenagers craving their next Red Bull may soon have to cross the border into Nassau County to quench their thirst.

The Suffolk County Legislature hosted a public hearing Tuesday on a bill that would ban the sale of energy drinks to consumers under the age of 19. While the bill has not been voted into law by the 18-member legislature, it at least has the support of the eight legislators co-sponsoring it.

“These energy drinks can be very detrimental to young people,” said Legislator Lynne Nowick (R-St. James), the primary sponsor of the bill.

As part of the bill, convenience stores and grocers who sell caffeinated energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster would be required to post signs warning customers of the health risks associated with such beverages.

The proposal would fine retailers $500 for selling energy drinks to minors and $250 for not posting the sign.

The University of Texas Medical School at Houston reported last month that energy drinks contain more caffeine than a strong cup of coffee. Standard energy drinks contain about 200 mg of caffeine per 16 ounces.

A study published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment shows that consumption of more than one energy drink in a 24-hour period can lead to sleeplessness, and potentially damage to the heart and stomach.

While four states have banned alcoholic energy drinks, and Governor David Paterson brokered a deal this fall to stop the sale of Four Loko in New York, there is no legislation limiting the sale of non-alcoholic energy drinks anywhere in this country.

The soft drink and beverage distribution lobbyists who testified at the hearing Tuesday said the bill was unnecessary and would be hard on retailers already dealing with a sluggish economy.

Ken Meyer, vice president of Clare Rose beverage distributors, said creating legal hurdles is not the answer. “You’ve got to educate rather than legislate,” he said.

Legislator Jack Eddington (WF-Medford) said he personally drinks energy drinks as an alternative to coffee and he did his best to make the case for his peers to vote against a ban.

“I don’t like telling 18-and-19-year-olds what they can and can’t do,” said Legislator Jack Eddington. “They can fight in a war, but they can’t buy an energy drink? Where are our priorities.”

The hearing was recessed after 40 minutes of debate and will likely be taken up for a vote in early 2011.

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