Bill targets ‘energy drink’ sales to minors

Posted Feb. 04, 2009, at 10:11 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The sale of high-caffeine “energy drinks” to minors could be outlawed if a proposal under consideration this week by Maine lawmakers is approved. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Peggy Pendleton, D-Scarborough, says consuming the sodalike drinks can cause health problems in young people, but a spokesman for the Maine Beverage Association argued that an age limit is unnecessary and unenforceable.

Other bills heard on Wednesday before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee include a proposal to prohibit smoking on Maine’s state park beaches and another to routinely include a patient’s HIV status as part of medical information exchanged between health care providers.

“Energy drinks have more of an effect than we thought,” Pendleton said in a phone interview on Tuesday. She referenced current research at Johns Hopkins University linking consumption of the caffeine-laced beverages by youngsters with episodes of elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations and other symptoms.

“I had a constituent call me — a mother — very upset that her 9-year-old son had gotten hold of one of these drinks,” she said. The child’s skin grew pale and clammy, his lips turned purplish and he complained of heart palpitations, according to the mother.

Pendleton said an alternative to limiting the sale of energy drinks to those 18 and older would be to require prominent warning labels on the containers.

“People should know what they’re buying,” she said.

But lobbyist Newell Augur, speaking for the Maine Beverage Association, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers caffeine safe, even for children. Energy drinks typically contain between 60 and 100 milligrams of caffeine in an 8-ounce serving, he said — less than the same amount of drip coffee. Other common foods containing smaller amounts of caffeine include iced tea, chocolate and many soft drinks, he noted.

“Even assuming effective enforcement, there is nothing in this bill that prevents people under the age of 18 from purchasing a variety of products containing more caffeine than what they might otherwise find in an energy drink to give them a boost during the day,” Augur said in his testimony. And there is nothing to prevent parents and other adults from providing energy drinks to the underaged, he said.

Augur said the Maine Beverage Association does not market any carbonated drinks, including energy drinks, in schools, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs and similar youth-oriented places.

A proposal submitted by Rep. Wright Pinkham, R-Lexington Township, would do away with the current law requiring patients to sign a separate consent form to include their HIV status with other medical information shared between health care providers.

Pinkham submitted the bill on behalf of his constituent John Bertl of North New Portland, whose wife is a family nurse practitioner. In his testimony, Bertl told the committee that the current law is inconsistently followed and creates an undue burden on health care providers, who must comb through patient records to redact references to HIV status.

The measure was opposed in the majority report of the state’s 21-member HIV Advisory Committee, the Maine Human Rights Commission and the Maine AIDS Alliance.

“We have a lot more work to do to remove the stigma of HIV among the general population,” testified Mathew Twomey, a member of the HIV Advisory Committee and a laboratory manager at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. “Until that time, we must protect the privacy of HIV test results and be sure that each and every person tested has the opportunity to either release or protect that information at his or her discretion.”

The two measures will be revisited in a work session today.

Also on the committee’s agenda was LD 67, which would prohibit smoking on the beach of any state park in Maine. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, says the measure is needed to protect beach-goers from secondhand smoke during Maine’s busy summer season and would also prevent young children from handling butts left buried in the sand. That measure is scheduled to be discussed in a workshop on Feb. 12.

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