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Long Island Counties Moving Toward Enacting Energy Drink Drinking Age

RONKONKOMA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Long Island is buzzing about energy drinks. A proposed law would ban sales to teenagers because of its caffeine kick.

But as CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported on Friday, not everyone wants to put a lid on the popular products.

They've been the subject of much debate, and now energy drinks are in the cross hairs of health officials in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Even as the Food and Drug Administration looks into their safety, energy drinks, which are loaded with sugar, caffeine and other stimulants, are as popular as ever among teens.

"When they're having sleep-overs they just want to stay up all night," Islip High School senior Courtney Perera said.

"It's not like we are going to OD on an energy drink," senior Erin Cohen added.

But Suffolk County could soon be the first to pass an energy drink drinking age. Its Board of Health voted to urge county and federal lawmakers to ban sales to anyone under 19.

"It has a bad nutritional message. It has risks for children. It has no therapeutic value," Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said.

William Spender, a Suffolk County legislator and a medical doctor, said he'll sponsor the bill if the industry doesn't label the drinks with better warnings. He said the danger lies in the concentration of caffeine and when it's consumed.

"If a young person is in a strenuous activity, caffeine intoxication can lead to cardiac arrhythmia," Dr. Spencer said.

But a spokesman for American Beverage Association said the drinks are safe and that most contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee. Suffolk's health commissioner said it's not caffeine alone that's the potential danger.

"There are a whole bunch of other ingredients that can augment the effects of caffeine," Dr. Tomarken said.

Convenience store workers said they are worried a ban would hurt business, but some said they already turn teens away.

"Even though there is no law we don't do it under 18," Ronkonkoma deli worker Noreen Prendergast said.

A spokesman for the companies that make the drinks said a ban would create a slippery slope. To be consistent, coffeehouses would need to card young adults before serving them coffee or tea.

The FDA is looking into claims that one such drink, 5-hour Energy, was tied to 13 deaths over a four-year period.

Do you think this is a good idea? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below ...

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