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Stern: Why I Will Vote No

Suffolk legislator gives his opinion on the county's move to ban the sale of energy drinks.

As our representative in the Suffolk County Legislature for the 16th District, I believe that government has a role to play in regulating products on the market that are proven to be harmful to public health and safety.  

However, I also strongly believe we must strike the right balance between  regulations and  ensuring that we all have the right to make our personal choices and take personal responsibility for the choices we make.

As the  author of the groundbreaking legislation to  prohibit the use of  bisphenol-A (BPA) in products used by young children and pregnant women, I understand the need for regulation of products that have adverse health effects so long as it is based on sound scientific data.  

This legislation was the first of its kind in the nation to pass because of the research we had to support such a ban. It is legislation that I am very proud of.  Not only have several other jurisdictions throughout our nation followed, there are now bills pending at the federal level and recently passed by the European Union.  The Suffolk County Legislature has a long, proud history  of legislative initiatives that have had a tremendous beneficial impact on our public health and safety.

Recently in the Legislature, a debate has been brought forward regarding whether or not to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors under the age of 19.  As a parent of two young children, I know that high amounts of caffeine can be harmful not only to children, but can be harmful to adults as well.

I also know that Twinkies are not healthy options for my children.  Should we institute a ban on their sale to children under the age of 19 as well?  What about restricting the number of coffee drinks that can be sold to a minor?  Should we put warning signs on the doors of any store that sells junk food?  

We are faced with a serious question of whether to impede on parental rights or have the government tell parents and children what they can or cannot consume.  No one would argue that our children should not have excessive amounts of caffeine or sugar, but I know that as a parent, it is my responsibility to regulate what my children eat and drink; not the government. It is my responsibility as a parent to ensure I teach my children healthy  eating habits; not our government.

Consumers, both parents and children, have the choice to purchase a caffeine-free alternative drink. Hopefully we all make an informed decision, but it should not be a decision mandated by government. I believe when government is contemplating any ban, the rationale should be based on good research and supported by the medical and scientific community.

While I believe that the dialogue on this topic is important in raising awareness and bringing information to the public, the scientific research presented to the Legislature has not been clear and convincing as I believe should be required to substantiate its passage. Debates on issues like banning the sale of energy drinks to minors are an important part of our democratic process.  

As a policymaker, I am committed to protecting our families from harmful products, but when regulations stand in the way of personal choices and personal responsibility without the proper scientific data to back it up, I cannot support it.

Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) has served in the Suffolk County Legislature since 2005.

jordan friedlander February 13, 2011 at 04:44 AM
Mr. Stern, I must congratulate and thank you on the first bit of real rational thinking made by a lawmaker on this issue. I am a caffeine hobbyist and a review blogger who loves energy drinks, coffee and other caffeinated items, and am used to seeing energy drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, made into political scapegoats to further the careers of lawmakers. I applaud you and commend your practical thinking behind this subject - and hope the rest of Suffolk follows your example.
Jim Shepherd February 13, 2011 at 04:17 PM
My 15-year-old son died and unexplained death just hours after drinking what was likely his first energy drink. He reportedly received it during a free handout by Red Bull marketers. I suspect that drink played a role in my son's death, if it wasn't the whole cause. He was fatigued, hungry, and playing an adrenaline rushing sport the day he died. If you care to explore the research on my Facebook awareness page (Energy drinks jim shepherd) you will see another 17-year-old boy who went into seizures shortly after drinking energy drinks. He was fortunate to survive, his doctor suspects the energy drinks. How about another boy who died in Florida early last year -he regularly consumed energy drinks, but this day tried a new brand. His heart stopped shortly after consuming one daily serving...Again unexplained. I agree with the legislator Stern on one point, that is, basing our decision on sound science, and there is no long-term science to prove the safety of the COMBINATION of ingredients found in energy drinks. Without this science and the growing anecdotal evidence, should we wait and perhaps see an outcome like tobacco products, or should we do the right thing for youth and ban the sale to them as a precautionary measure? In the hands of youth is there truly any difference between energy drinks and alcohol or tobacco products? The government needs to support good parenting and stop the sale of these products to minors. Legislator Nowick, you have my full support.
JSC February 13, 2011 at 04:51 PM
This reminds me of the ephedra issue several years ago. It took the loss of the son of one of our guidance counselors to finally get this substance banned. (Thank you Mrs. Schlendorf.) While I agree that there may be other important issues for our local legislators to be working on, this sounds like one that needs to be addressed in some way immediately. No more children should be losing their lives to an energy drink - something that sounds harmless to them and is readily available to them without parental consent. Why put our store owners in the position of having to sell this product to young people, knowing full well that it could be fatal to any one of them? Parents don't always know what their teens are buying, whether they've told them it's ok or not. We don't let them buy liquor, we don't let them buy cigarettes. Sure, an older friend could get it for them. Why throw caution to the wind? Mr. Stern, I think you should re-think your position on this substance. Please.
Steve February 14, 2011 at 01:11 AM
Well that is the one major contradiction in government passing laws to protect the public interest when more often than not it is designed as additional source of revenue by collecting the fines and penalties the new law generates. (New City is working on passing a law to make it illegal to cross the street when you are talking on your cell phone) It should be worth several million dollars a year to the City. If the government was truly looking out for the welfare of the people Cigarettes would surely be illegal. We have the proof and statistics we know for sure they take lives in the hundreds of thousands every year. But because of the tremendous tax revenue it receives it clearly looks the other way. When I hear a new law is being initiated to “protect” the people I have to be suspect.
Clifford Sondock February 19, 2011 at 05:07 PM
As a representative in the Suffolk County Legislature for the 16th District, your primary duty is to uphold the Constitution and preserve Liberty. I believe that government has a role to preserve the free market and allow market unfluences to self-regulate products on the market that are proven to be harmful to public health and safety.

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