By Mike Billy
If some Illinois lawmakers have their way, popular energy drinks such as Monster and Red Bull will face increased regulation.
Two bills that have been introduced to the Illinois House of Representatives would make it illegal to sell or “deliver” an energy drink to anyone under the age of 18.
One of those bills, House Bill 2379, has passed the House Human Services Committee.
Advocates say the bill, which defines an energy drink as any beverage that contains taurine, guarana, glucuronolactone and ginseng, is necessary to save lives.
“Based on what we have seen and what experts tell us, these drinks are unsafe for children,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, state Rep. Laura Fine, D-Glenview. “We see more and more children in the emergency room with elevated blood pressure and heart rates because of these drinks.”
A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, however, found that “no reports were identified of negative effects associated with taurine, ginseng, and guarana used in the amounts found in most energy drinks.”
The study did find some reports of negative health effects associated with caffeine.
The legislation, however, was amended and no longer contains any references to caffeine content in its definition of an energy drink.
Fine said caffeine was removed from the definition because lawmakers wanted to focus on the other stimulants that are found in the drinks.
“We didn’t want it to appear like we are going after coffee,” she said. “That’s not what we are looking at. We are looking at the health risks of these other stimulants in these energy drinks.”
State Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka, said he will vote against the bill when it comes up in the House because it’s an example of nanny state legislation.
“We make too many rules in this state,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Chicago resident Alex Levine, who is an energy drink consumer, said she believes that calling energy drinks dangerous is a scare tactic. Even if they are harmful, she would not be in favor of the legislation.
“If these drinks are detrimental to children under the age of 18 their parents should be the ones saying they aren’t allowed to drink it,” said Levine, 26. “I don’t think that responsibility should be left with the attendant at 7-11.”
Fine, however, sees the law as an extension of powers the state already has.
“We are currently protecting kids from tobacco and alcohol and this is one more thing I’d like to protect them from,” Fine said.
But Harms said the law limits freedom of choice.
“We are micromanaging people’s lives in this state,” he said. “We should be trying to figure out how to give people the freedom to make their own decisions, instead of how to take it away.”