Suffolk bills seek curbs on sales of energy drinks

RED BULLClaim: "Thanks to a unique combination of RED BULL
Claim: "Thanks to a unique combination of high quality ingredients Red Bull Energy Drink vitalizes body and mind."
Ingredients: caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone, sucrose, and vitamins B3 (niacin), B5, B6 and B12. Photo Credit: AP

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Two bills aimed at limiting the availability of energy drinks will get first hearings in the Suffolk County Legislature next week, but some health advocates are already lamenting that they do not go far enough.

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) has proposed laws to ban energy drink distribution within county parks and beaches, and to ban free samples from being given to minors. The resolutions will be introduced, respectively, at Wednesday's parks committee and at Thursday's health committee meetings, with public hearings in front of all lawmakers scheduled for next week.

"These pieces of legislation at least help level the playing field between the industry and some of our children who don't always have the privilege of parental oversight," said Spencer, noting that energy drink makers often attract young customers via booths at fairs held on county grounds. "It's a start."

Limiting samples and prohibiting the beverages in parks, however, were the smaller components of a request made last November to the legislature by Suffolk's Board of Health. Chiefly, the board urged lawmakers to completely ban the sale of energy drinks to anyone under age 19, citing potential health dangers including elevated heart rates, higher blood pressure, dizziness and even death.

"It's not enough," Tracy Trypuc, a health board member, said of Spencer's proposals. " . . . The full age ban would be the most effective law."

Spencer initially supported a countywide age restriction, but after meeting last month with industry representatives, including officials from Red Bull and Monster, he said the effort was complicated by needing to define energy drinks, so as to not impact the sale of coffee and soda. When support for an age restriction stalled, he shifted to the smaller bills, and said he'd also work to limit sales of "shot"-like drinks with higher caffeine and stimulant levels.

"I'm already hearing vehement opposition from the energy drink lobby," Spencer acknowledged of his efforts that fall short of an age restriction.

The energy drink industry has long said its products are safe, and that no evidence exists that they can cause death.

But Wendy Crossland, of Maryland, whose daughter Anais Fournier, 14, died last year of a heart arrhythmia after drinking two 24-ounce energy drinks within 22 hours, said Suffolk needs to prioritize children over beverage companies. She has sued an energy drink maker, claiming her daughter's arrhythmia was caused by caffeine toxicity. "It's a gross injustice when lobbyist money comes before the health and safety of our children," she wrote to lawmakers.

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