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Families Testify on Ephedra Deaths

Gaffney to decide on bill to ban stimulant

Feb 26, 2003 | Newsday

At a hearing in the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge yesterday morning, Doug Hanson held up a photograph of a smiling woman holding a baby boy. "This is my wife, Anne," he said, and told the story of the day in October 1998 when his wife passed away.

"We got a call she'd been working out at the gym and that she had been taken to the hospital," he said, adding that she had been taking a weight-loss supplement that contains ephedra for several months. "Anne died later that day," Hanson said.

Hanson, of Huntington, was one of 16 people who testified about a bill the Suffolk legislature passed two weeks ago to ban the sale of ephedra, a controversial stimulant linked to seizures and heart attacks.

Yesterday's hearing was designed to help County Executive Robert Gaffney decide whether to sign the bill into law.

Diet pill distributors testified that the county should let stand a measure signed late last year that prohibits the sale of supplements containing the stimulant to minors and mandates extensive warning labels for adults in lieu of a ban.

Bob Wagner, who owns Bohemia-based Wagner and Associates and distributes products containing ephedra, said Gaffney should veto the ban so that "adults can choose whether they want to use ephedra as a weight-loss method."

The public hearing came two weeks after the legislature voted 12-4 to bar sales of products containing ephedra, which was linked most recently to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler last week.

Gaffney has about two weeks to decide whether to sign the measure. Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), who sponsored the ephedra prohibition, urged the county executive to approve the measure soon.

"I was in Baltimore and I passed by the Orioles' field and it sent a chill down my spine," Cooper said. "That was where he [Bechler] was supposed to play."

The public hearing came one day after a jury concluded that TwinLab, a Hauppauge-based ephedra product manufacturer, was partially responsible for the death of a 24-year-old Round Rock, Texas, man who took one of its supplements. TwinLab was found liable for $1 million.

"It didn't seem like anything was being done on a national level," Hanson said after the hearing. "So it's important that something be done locally."

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