Physician Steve Sun watches a heart monitor display Jan. 14 in the ER at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco. A government report shows the number of people seeking emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks has doubled nationwide over the past four years.
(Photo: Eric Risberg, AP)
CHICAGO - Is it time to start hoarding Red Bull?
Health concerns are prompting proposals to restrict the sale of highly caffeinated energy drinks.
Chicago Alderman Ed Burke last month introduced an ordinance that would ban the sale of energy drinks that contain 180 milligrams of caffeine and two other substances. That would end sales of many 24-ounce energy drinks.
A hearing on Burke's proposal has not been scheduled, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not said whether he supports it.
"This is an issue that's starting to resonate around the country," Burke, a Democrat, says.
His concern was prompted by a study for the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that found the number of emergency room visits involving the drinks rose from about 10,000 in 2007 to more than 20,000 in 2011. The study said energy drinks can cause insomnia, fast heartbeat and seizures.
Tim Bramlet, executive director of the Illinois Beverage Association, says the industry doesn't think research suggests the products should be banned. "We contend that, used in moderation, they are safe for consumption," he says.
Other moves focusing on energy drinks, which were an $8.9 billion industry in 2011:
The Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether energy drinks were factors in some fatalities. Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut want the department to tighten regulation of the beverages.
Bramlet says the industry supports an FDA review.
- A 180-milligram cap on caffeine content in energy drinks took effect in Canada last month. The Mayo Clinic says daily consumption of 200-300 milligrams usually - the equivalent of two to four cups of coffee - usually is not harmful. In the USA, a 16-ounce Rock Star Zero Carb contains 120 milligrams of caffeine.
- The sale and use of energy drinks are banned in Manatee County, Fla., public schools starting this school year. "We have a big push on nutrition," says Karen Carpenter, who chairs the school board. "I hear from parents that they're thrilled."
- The Suffolk County, N.Y., Board of Health voted unanimously in November to urge county lawmakers to ban the sale of energy drinks to people under 19. "It's a very bad overall message to children that they need to reach for a can of substance to energize," says Health Commissioner James Tomarken, a physician who believes more research on the beverages' effects on children is necessary. "This is not a substance that children need," he says.
Burke shrugs off comparisons of his proposed ordinance to the attempt by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban the sale of large sugary soft drinks - an effort criticized by the soft drink industry and civil liberties advocates as governmental intrusion into personal decisions.
"I've heard some of the 'nanny arguments' being raised," Burke says. "That's the same thing they argued 20 years ago when I was arguing for a smoking ban."
Judy Keen, USA TODAY