Ban on energy drink sales fizzles; sponsor suggests public awareness campaign on caffeine

Posted May 06, 2013, at 12:35 p.m.
Legislative committee members split along party lines on an amended version of a bill that would form a study group charged with designing a public awareness campaign focused on the health risks to children from consuming large amounts of caffeine in energy drinks and a range of other caffeine-containing foods like gum, jelly beans and waffles.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Legislative committee members split along party lines on an amended version of a bill that would form a study group charged with designing a public awareness campaign focused on the health risks to children from consuming large amounts of caffeine in energy drinks and a range of other caffeine-containing foods like gum, jelly beans and waffles.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would outlaw energy drink sales to minors didn’t get the jolt it needed Monday morning to clear the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee intact.

Instead, committee members split along party lines on an amended version of the bill, LD 753, that would form a study group charged with designing a public awareness campaign focused on the health risks to children from consuming large amounts of caffeine in energy drinks and a range of other caffeine-containing foods like gum, jelly beans and waffles.

Republicans on the committee called the study group unnecessary, given federal investigations into the marketing practices of energy drink manufacturers and the caffeine-related health risks to children.

Rep. Katherine Cassidy, D-Lubec, who sponsored the original legislation, recommended changing the bill to prohibit energy drink sales into the public awareness effort, which would involve the Maine Centers for Disease Control. Her recommendation came a week after the sales prohibition proposal attracted the support of medical groups and the fervent opposition of beverage industry representatives, grocers and convenience store operators at a public hearing.

“I realized it was a long shot,” Cassidy said of the original bill. “My intention was to keep the conversation going.”

And public awareness campaigns are at the heart of the Maine CDC’s mission, said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook.

The caffeine content of energy drinks — as well as the addition of the stimulant to foods like jelly beans, chewing gum, waffles and syrup — has attracted the scrutiny of regulators in the federal Food and Drug Administration in recent months. That agency announced last week it planned to investigate the health effects of caffeine on children and adolescents.

At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the advertising practices of energy drink makers, a move urged by some members of Congress who have raised concerns that the energy boosters are commonly marketed to children and advertised as dietary supplements.

Republican lawmakers on the Health and Human Services panel suggested at least waiting for the results of the federal inquiries before pursuing state-level action. They also cautioned against overloading the Maine CDC with study and work group requests.

“We really need to wait for the data to come in before we do anything,” said Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea.

The amended bill will soon move to the full Legislature, where it could attract debate following the committee’s party-line division on the issue.

Lawmakers in Maine are considering the energy drinks issue as legislation that would bar energy drink sales to minors makes its way through the Illinois General Assembly after a positive committee vote there.

The Maine Legislature considered a similar sales prohibition four years ago, but that legislation died in committee.

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