Suffolk County legislation seeks to protect minors from dangers of energy drinks

New legislation in Suffolk County proposed by Legislator William Spencer aims to protect minors from the dangers of energy drinks by increasing awareness of their risks and prohibiting the marketing and selling of such drinks on county parks.

This is the first successful, comprehensive energy drink awareness and protection bill the country has seen. The new bill has three major elements that author Legislator William Spencer of District 18 hopes will “level the playing field.”

The legislation prohibits the marketing and advertising of drinks to minors, prohibits the distribution and sale of stimulant drinks to minors in county parks, and implements an education awareness program in Suffolk’s junior and high schools to teach about the health risks associated with these drinks.

Legislator Spencer is mostly concerned with the targeted advertising of popular energy drinks such as Monster and Redbull to minors.  

“I think that people have a right to make their personal choices and so what my legislation does, is make awareness. We’re really more focusing on campaign ads that say if you are sleepy, zap the nap or if you’re thirsty for more performance consume an energy drink. It’s a false message, it’s not an energy drink, it’s a stimulant,” said Spencer, “I’m just trying to level the playing field, I’m not trying to restrict or ban.”

The legislation comes at a time when the energy drink industry has reached a net worth of $10 billion and teens are consuming their products at an increasing rate.

According to a study done by the Division of Medical Toxicology at the University of Massachusetts, excessive consumption of energy intake in children may raise blood pressure, disrupt sleep patterns, intensify psychiatric diseases, cause dependence, and increase the risk of subsequent addiction.

James Tomarken, Suffolk County Health Commissioner was not available for direct comment but in a letter he wrote to the presiding office of the Suffolk County legislature expressed the Board of Health’s growing concern about energy drinks.

“Since 2011, the energy drink industry has continued and expanded its marketing of its products to young adults and children,” said Tomarken, “recent alleged associations of deaths related to energy drinks and the increase in emergency room visits due to illnesses attributed to these beverages has added to the concerns of the Board.”

This bill was not the first attempt to address this issue in Suffolk County. In 2010, Legislator Lynne Nowich authored legislation that sought to restrict the sale of energy drinks completely in Suffolk County.

Greg Moran, Nowich’s District Chief of Staff spoke on her behalf.

“She had been contacted by a number of parents that brought this to our attention, including parents who have lost children and they feel it was directly related to the consumption of energy drinks,” said Moran.

The outcry of parents and physicians motivated Nowich to create the original legislation in 2010, which did not get enough support in the legislature to pass. Nowich still believes in the ban but does not have the legislative support to pass such an extreme initiative.

Many minors see energy drinks as a harmless pick-me-up, but when you take a closer look, the numbers are striking.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of emergency room visits nationwide involving energy drinks doubled from 10,068 to 20,783 visits in 2011.

“There was a review in the Journal of Pediatrics that looked at caffeine overdoses and basically half of them involved kids that were under the age of 19,” said Nancy Copperman, registered dietician and director of the Public Health Initiative at North Shore LIJ Health Systems.

Copperman echoed many of the common concerns with this issue, saying the main problem is the lack of awareness surrounding these drinks.

“I think a lot of people are drinking this and parents are out letting their kids drink it because they don’t understand the physiological problems that can arise from this,” she said.

Copperman also added that kids can consume a toxic amount of these drinks that result in nervousness, anxiety, stomach upset, rapid heart rate and ultimately caffeine withdrawal.

“As energy drinks are being sold at Suffolk County Parks, this legislation enacts our responsibility to protect the health of Suffolk County families,” said Emily Lauri, Suffolk County community relations director.

However, not everyone is happy with the new legislation.

“The body of science does not support the claims made by local legislators to support these bans,” said Maureen Beach, director of communications for the American Beverage Association, the trade association that represents America’s non-alcoholic beverage industry.

“Public policy should not be based on sensational stories about something which these legislators admitted they had little knowledge; it should be based on facts and science,” Beach continued.

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