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Maryland mom to make case for energy drink ban at City Council hearing Tuesday



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Updated: March 4, 2013 6:49PM

The mother of a Maryland teen who died after downing two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks over a 24-hour period will tell her gut-wrenching story to a City Council committee Tuesday to make the case for a proposed Chicago ban on the sale and distribution of high-caffeine energy drinks.

Wendy Crossland’s testimony before the City Council’s Health Committee comes one day after Monster denied that the energy drink caused the death of Crossland’s 14-year-old daughter, Anais Fournier.

Crossland sued Monster last year for allegedly failing to warn consumers about the dangers of the high-powered energy drink, a favorite among young people looking for a jolt.

On the eve of the Chicago hearing, Monster announced that a group of doctors hired by the company had found “no medical, scientific or factual evidence” to support a Maryland Medical Examiner’s conclusion that “caffeine toxicity” caused the girl’s death.

The company said it does not believe its products are “in any way responsible” for the girl’s death, nor is the company aware of “any fatality anywhere” caused by Monster.

Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12th) lashed out at Monster for attempting to wash its hands of Anais’s death.

“It’s irresponsible for Monster to just flat-out say, ‘We have nothing to do with it. Our product is 100 percent OK.’ They’re not even saying they could do a better job of labeling,” Cardenas said.

“There are some concessions on the table. Better labeling. Better consumer information on these products. Caffeine content that’s disclosed and not hidden under another name. The rest of the industry is saying they can better standardize consumer information. For Monster to say that’s not even on the table is irresponsible.”

Cardenas has proposed that minors be prohibited from purchasing energy drinks, but only to get the industry’s attention and educate parents and young people about the potential dangers. His ultimate goal has always been better labeling — not a ban he claims would set a “bad precedent” economically.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) wants to ban the sale and distribution of high-caffeine energy drinks in Chicago — not just to minors, but to consumers of all ages.

The beverage industry has hired a pair of heavy-hitting lobbyists to try and kill Burke’s blanket ban.

One of them is Victor Reyes, the former Hispanic Democratic Organization chieftain who was former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s director of intergovernmental affairs when the City Council voted to ban foie gras. The widely-ridiculed ordinance was subsequently repealed after Chicago became an international laughingstock.

Reyes has argued that a Chicago-only energy drink ban would be similarly ridiculed and send a job-killing signal to the business community.

In addition to Crossland, the Health Committee is expected to hear testimony from Dr. Howard Axe, president of the Chicago Medical Society, about a dramatic spike in emergency room visits tied to energy drink consumption.

But, sources said the Health Committee is not expected to take a vote on Burke’s ban.

When Burke introduced his blanket ban, he cited the popularity of drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle and 5 Hour Energy among young people.

But, his ordinance is worded in a way that 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.

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 an 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 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.

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