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Suffolk County Lawmakers Approve Tight Restrictions On Energy Drinks

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Suffolk County lawmakers voted Tuesday night to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors at county parks and beaches.

As CBS 2/TV-10/55 Long Island Bureau Chief Richard Rose reported, the Suffolk County Legislature called the ban the nation's first comprehensive energy drink education and protection plan. It passed as backers warned of potential health dangers to teens from the high-caffeine drinks, while attorneys marketing the products called the ban unconstitutional and threatened to sue.

The legislation targets drinks like Red Bull, Monster and others. The bill also calls for prohibiting the marketing of energy drinks to teens as well as educating kids about potential health risks associated with those drinks.

Vote Set On Energy Drink Legislation In Suffolk County

Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport), a sponsor of the bill, said energy drinks are dangerous for minors because they contain too much caffeine.

"There's been a dramatic increase over the years with the very popular energy drink industry, but we've also seen a dramatic increase in emergency room visits," Spencer said at the hearing.

In addition to the county park restriction, the ban also calls for an education campaign for teens. It will also prohibit promotional mailings to teens, such as the one Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai) said her 16-year-old son received.

"He's on a couple soccer leagues. I don't know where they got his name, or where they got our address to my home," Anker said.

At the public hearing before the ban passed, a cardiac surgeon talked about a recent case where a 13-year-old boy was brought into the emergency room with a racing heart.

"As I walked out, he said, 'Oh yeah, by the way doc, I forgot to tell you – I had a can of Amp an hour before I got to the emergency room," said Dr. Sean Levchuck of St. Francis Hospital.

But a lobbyist for the energy drink industry said there is no proof of harm, and characterized the ban as government overreach.

"Cotton candy – which is pure sugar, or white death; hot dogs, with all of the nitrates, sodium and fat, are more detrimental to the consumer than energy drinks," said lobbyist Matthew Vishnick.

Lobbyists for the American Beverage Association showed charts claiming energy drinks have less caffeine than some of the choices at Starbucks, and said they will challenge the ban in the courts.

But Suffolk's health commissioner, Dr. James Tomarken, has said it's not caffeine alone that poses a danger.

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

The Food and Drug Administration has been looking into claims that one such drink, 5-hour Energy, was tied to 13 deaths over a four-year period.

Last year, Suffolk County's Board of Health voted to urge lawmakers to ban sales of energy drinks to anyone under 19.

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