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.