Ban On Energy Drinks Gets A Hearing, But No Action Is Taken

By Anthony Todd in Food on Mar 6, 2013 4:30PM

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In January, Alderman Ed Burke announced that he was making a run at banning energy drinks in Chicago. He wants a complete ban on certain beverages, which he believes pose a strong risk of accidental overdose. He isn't the only one who thinks so; last year, Sen. Dick Durbin asked the FDA to investigate the drinks. Burke got a hearing at the City Council Tuesday, but after three hours of expert testimony in favor and opposed to a ban, nothing happened.

DNA Chicago reports each side had scientists and advocates willing to testify the the drinks either posed no risk or were horribly dangerous.

In favor of the ban: "These drinks pose serious health risks to both adults and children," testified Dr. Howard Axe, president of the Chicago Medical Society. He granted, however, that this danger was mostly to those with "pre-existing conditions," especially heart problems.

The beverage industry's take: "There's little or no solid medical evidence" on "causal effects," added Dr. James Coughlin, a medical consultant and an expert in nutrition and toxicology. He said a ban "can't be supported" by medical evidence."

Burke is fighting an uphill battle on this one. The American Beverage Association, a powerful industry lobbying group, has joined in to fight the ban. Other aldermen aren't so fond of it either, citing a lack of Chicago-specific data that the drinks pose a threat.

A quick clarification: despite the ban's colloquial name ("Red Bull ordinance"), Red Bull is actually not subject to the restrictions. The proposed ban would only affect drinks with more than 180 milligrams of caffeine. Of course, this would lead to the same issue that New York is having with its "Big Gulp" ban, as it would be easy for someone to simply buy two smaller drinks and get the same effect. The ban also wouldn't affect coffee or espresso, which can contain more caffeine than energy drinks.