Chicago Alderman ‘confident’ of action against energy drinks

By Stephen DANIELLS

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Energy drinks, Caffeine, Chicago

Alderman George Cardenas, Chairman of the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection
Alderman George Cardenas, Chairman of the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection
The chairman of the Chicago City Council committee discussing highly caffeinated energy drinks is ‘confident’ some sort of action will come out of the hearings.

A three hour Chicago City Council committee hearing about proposed action on energy drinks and shots Tuesday ended without a vote, as snowstorms prevented the attendance of four witnesses.  

Two ordinances were being discussed: The first co-sponsored by Alderman George Cardenas, chairman of the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, and Alderman Burns (November 15, 2012 City Council meeting) is for a ban on the sale of energy drinks containing equal to or greater than 180 mg of caffeine to anyone under the age of 21 years.

A second ordinance was introduced by Alderman Ed Burke at the January 17, 2013 City Council meeting for a complete ban on the sale of energy drinks containing equal to or greater than 180 mg of caffeine and containing taurine or guarana, regardless of age.

Confident of action

The hearing, which was denied four witnesses because of the snow storm in Chicago, ended without a vote. Jessica Cummings, director of communications and policy for Alderman Cardenas, told us that no date has yet been set for the second hearing.

“It was never intended that a vote would occur at yesterday's Health Committee hearing,”​ she said. “The intention was to hold a hearing to gather additional facts and then go from there. 

“Alderman Cardenas is confident that some action in regards to energy drink regulation will occur, whether it will be a ban of some sort or just stricter labeling requirements remains to be determined.”

“There are still additional witnesses left to testify.  Another hearing will be scheduled at some point in the near future.”

“Big cans”

Donal Quinlan, spokesman for Alderman Burke, stressed that the ordinance was against highly caffeinated​ energy drinks – “think of the big cans”​ – and one of the two ingredients taurine or guarana.

Ed-Burke-alderman-Chicago (1)
Alderman Ed Burke

“A 24-ounce can of Monster Energy is believed to contain approximately 480 milligrams of known caffeine, which is the equivalent of almost 14 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents consume no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine each day,”​ Burke is quoted by the Chicago Sun Times​.

“If nothing else, hearings like this are going to make parents aware of these products. But I wonder how many parents have read what the can says: ‘We went down to the lab and cooked up a double-shot of our killer energy brew.’ This lady in Maryland believes that’s exactly what this product is to her 14-year-old child. That’s what they say on the can that they’re selling here in Chicago — that it’s a ‘killer energy brew.’ ”

‘No medical or scientific evidence’

Monster – the product blamed by the parents of a Maryland teenager for her death – held a press conference earlier this week ahead of the Chicago City Council hearing to address the allegations. 

Experts hired by the energy drinks company said there is “no medical or scientific evidence that would support a finding that the death of Anais Fournier was causally linked to consumption of Monster Energy drinks​”.

Monster’s attorney Daniel Callahan, a partner at law firm Callahan & Blaine, said:

"After an examination of Ms. Fournier's medical records, pathology report and autopsy report, the physicians stated conclusively that there is no medical, scientific or factual evidence to support the Maryland medical examiner's report of 'caffeine toxicity' or that Ms. Fournier's consumption of two Monster Energy Drinks 24 hours apart contributed to, let alone was the cause of her untimely death."

Ms Fournier - who had a family history of heart problems - suffered from several medical conditions known to increase the risk of cardiac arrest and sudden death, including an enlarged heart, a vascular form of connective tissue disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, mitral valve prolapse and myocardial fibrosis (a thickening or scarring of the cardiac tissue), said Dr Bob Arnot.

But there is “no link between caffeine and death from myocarditis”, ​he claimed. “In myocarditis, there is usually no trigger at all.”

Unregulated?

Chicago Map

The Chicago Medical Society (CMS) announced its opposition to super-caffeinated “energy drinks”, and the society’s president, Howard Axe, MD, testified for the pro-ban side.

“A child or adolescent who has a pre-existing heart condition and drinks just two of these beverages runs a very real risk of having a fatal heart attack,” ​said Dr Axe. “Worse, these unregulated beverages are marketed directly at these young adults, most of who do not understand the health risks.”

“Because caffeine and the additional supplements in energy drinks are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,”​ said Dr Axe, “the manufacturers of these beverages are not doing anything illegal—just highly irresponsible. It harkens back to the days when Coca-Cola contained a substance that was little understood by the public—cocaine.”

Such statements have already brought strong rebuke from food, beverage and dietary supplement attorneys. “The pretext of the bill in just filled with a number of flat-out inaccuracies,”​ said Justin Prochnow, a shareholder based in the Denver office of law firm Greenberg Traurig.

“If you are proposing a bill you should at least get your facts straight,”Prochnow told us when Alderman Burke's ban was first announced​.  “To say energy drinks are unregulated, or to say that people are selling them as supplements to avoid federal regulation . . . of course supplements are regulated by FDA. All energy drinks are regulated. The proposed ban is ridiculous. The text is replete with inaccurate or blatantly false information.

"You may have issues with how they are regulated, but to say that they are not regulated is just flat out not true."

What next?

Cummings explained that if the Committee votes to approve it, it will then go to the full City Council for a vote.  If it's not approved in Committee, then it will die (unless a substitute ordinance is introduced). 

“It is possible that the current ordinances will never be voted on, but that the language of the ordinance will be changed and a substitute ordinance will be introduced and voted on,”​ she said.

“Aldermen Cardenas, Burns, and Burke need to go through all of the testimony and discuss how they would like to proceed.”  

Related topics: Beverage, Regulation

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