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Ald. Ed Burke wants to ban high-caffeine energy drinks

Ald. Ed Burke (14th)  |  Sun-Times library

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) | Sun-Times library

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Updated: February 19, 2013 3:13PM

Chicago would ban the sale and distribution of high-caffeine energy drinks — not just to minors, but to consumers of all ages — under a surprise crackdown proposed Thursday by the City Council’s most powerful alderman.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, proposed the blanket ban, citing the popularity of drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle and 5 Hour Energy among teenagers and young adults and the dangers those drinks can pose to their health.

But Burke’s ban would still allow Red Bull to be sold, generally targeting higher-caffeine drinks. Some of the others could still be available, but not in their larger sizes or more potent concentrations.

Last month, Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12th) proposed that minors under the age of 21 be prohibited from purchasing energy drinks in Chicago.

Cardenas said he wasn’t really interested in banning the sale of energy drinks to minors. He simply wanted to get the industry’s attention and educate parents and young people about the dangers of energy drinks.

“You start with that premise because it brings more attention to the problem. It’s a more serious conversation. If we just hold hearings, people won’t take it seriously,” Cardenas told the Chicago Sun-Times on the day he introduced the ordinance.

On Thursday, Cardenas said he was no longer pushing to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors, and he’s surprised that Burke wants to go even further.

“I’m not for banning anything. We need to educate the public and educate parents more than anything and work with the industry for better warnings and labeling on these products. We’re gonna modify it. We’re not gonna push a ban,” Cardenas said.

“We started with a big, broad ordinance that could bring everybody to the table and have good results. That was the aim. My aim was not to ban anything, but to accomplish the goal of not having teens or kids die from lack of education about these drinks that could harm them.”

Burke could not be reached for comment.

His ordinance states, “No person shall sell, give away, barter, exchange or otherwise furnish any energy drink.” Violators would face fines ranging from $100-to-$500 for each offense.

Retailers who repeatedly violate the citywide ban could have their business licenses suspended or revoked, the ordinance states.

The ordinance defines energy drinks as “a canned or bottled beverage which contains an amount of caffeine exceeding or equal to 180 milligrams-per-container and containing Taurine or Guarana.”

Under that definition, the typical can of Red Bull would apparently still be available in the city. The company’s website lists the caffeine content in a 8.4 ounce can as 80 milligrams, 100 mg. short of the ordinance’s threshold.

Monster’s 16-ounce can would just make it at 160 mg., but the 24-ounce Mega Monster can (240 mg.) would not.

5 Hour Energy Drink’s 2-ounce bottle (138 mg.) would be allowed, but the Extra Strength version (207 mg.) would not.

Full Throttle’s 16-ounce can (200 mg.) would be banned.

The preamble to Burke’s ordinance cites the “alarming rate” of teen consumption of energy drinks and notes that manufacturers label energy drinks as dietary supplements to “avoid federal regulation.”

It also states that the Food and Drug Administration “has received reports that link at least five deaths since 2009 to a beverage called Monster Energy.”

Those deaths include a 14-year-old girl who “died suddenly from a hearth arrhythmia that occurred when she drank two Monster Energy drinks over the course of two days,” the Burke ordinance states.

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