Empire State or Nanny State: Suffolk should not ban energy drinks

In New York State, 18-year-olds need to show ID to buy cigarettes, get married, and vote. Now one lawmaker wants to make them show ID to purchase … energy drinks.

That’s right. Suffolk County legislator Lynne C. Nowick is pushing a bill that would force local convenience stores to card everyone attempting to purchase soft drinks that contain 80 or more milligrams of caffeine per eight ounces, and that are advertised as increasing energy. Her proposal is bad policy based on bad science that will ultimately end up hurting local businesses and teenagers, while doing absolutely nothing to protect children’s health.

To put things in perspective, eight ounces of Starbucks coffee has an average of 150 milligrams of caffeine, a two-ounce bottle of 5-Hour Energy has 138 milligrams of caffeine, and 8.2 ounces of Red Bull has 80 milligrams of caffeine. Even if this bill passes, teens in Suffolk County will be able to purchase as much coffee as they’d like, for now.

And what’s so bad about caffeine anyway? According to Nowick’s “nutritional expert” — who apparently isn’t a certified medical professional — caffeine might cause sleeplessness and high blood pressure in teens.

There is little reason for health concerns regarding energy drinks. Their ingredients are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and nothing in such drinks has been shown to cause harm when ingested in reasonable quantities by any age group.

Apart from moderate amounts of caffeine, most energy drinks contain a mixture of vitamins required by the body at appropriate levels. In fact, one ingredient in a popular energy drink, Citicoline, is required by the FDA to be in infant formula.

Nowick’s bill will also hurt struggling local businesses. Convenience store owners will bear the cost of putting up signs, training clerks, carding consumers, paying fines for missteps, and longer lines. Can you imagine your local 7-11 carding everyone during the morning rush before work? Stores will be fined up to $750 each time they accidentally sell an energy drink to anyone under 19 years old.

One of the worst things about this bill — and other laws like it — is the disservice it does to youngsters. Young adults need to learn how to make their own decisions about nutrition and moderation. Almost any substance or product can be abused — even water can be consumed in fatal quantities.

It is up to parents and educators to teach kids how to make good decisions about what they eat and drink, not make those decisions for them. If children grow up in a world where many products are banned because they could be considered harmful in any circumstance, they may well assume that if a product is available for purchase, it must be safe in any quantity for every person at any time — otherwise the government would have banned it or put a warning label on it.

Adult life is filled with decisions, weighing costs and benefits. If we rob youths of the opportunity to make their own decisions about things like what they eat, how will they ever be able to make more important decisions later in life?

Adults’ freedom is also at risk. This proposal represents a dangerous level of government intrusiveness. If lawmakers like Lynne Nowick think they can eventually legislate all of our decisions for us, one has to wonder when they will get around to banning or limiting the consumption of coffee and soda for adults. The answer is, when they think they can get away with it.