New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it a cause of his to ban large soda drinks. Similarly, New York U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer has targeted energy drinks, both with and without alcohol.
Introduced by State Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat, House Bill 2379 proposes to amend the Illinois Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act banning the sale of energy drinks to people under the age of eighteen. As introduced, the bill defined an energy drink as “any soft drink with a caffeine level of 6 mg or more per ounce.”
Rep. Laura Fine, a Democratic co-sponsor who has introduced her own similar legislation in the past, recently said of energy drinks:
“One of my sons brought it to my attention, saying that his friends are buying these drinks and [the drinks are] making them feel just awful. . . .
“I don’t have a problem with somebody who can make that educated decision purchasing the product. But if they’re under the age of 18, I think we need to protect them, just like we do we cigarettes, just like we do with alcohol.”
In supporting legislation of this type, Fine put the onus on government:
“I think a retailer would feel terrible if they sold these products to a child who had a severe physical reaction, and this would take that responsibility away.”
HB 2379 was amended in committee. Excised from the bill was any mention of caffeine. It was replaced by language defining an energy drink as containing any ingredient or combination of the ingredients taurine, guarana, glucuronolactone, and ginseng. Language prohibiting the sale to minors of any energy drinks matching this description remains in place.
On the removal of caffeine from the banned ingredients, Rep. Fine added:
“We didn’t want it to appear like we are going after coffee. . . . That’s not what we are looking at. We are looking at the health risks of these other stimulants in these energy drinks.”
There has been some push-back from lawmakers who claim that HB 2379 intrudes on the freedom of choice. State Rep. Josh Harms, a Republican from Watseka, likens the bill to “nanny state” regulation, saying, “We make too many rules in this state. It’s that simple.”
One widely-cited 2008 report by the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association stated that levels of guarana, ginseng, and taurine in energy drinks were insufficient to “deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse events.” Instead, the report found the levels and combination of caffeine and sugar as potential causes of health problems.
Public health concerns continue to occupy the ledgers of the highest levels of state government in states such as Illinois and New York. In the case of Illinois, however, pressures from debt and unfunded liabilities also occupy many lawmakers. In the end, those concerns may end up superseding concerns of an Illinois energy drink ban.