Illinois Democrats want to prohibit the sale of energy drinks to minors, but they have carved out an exemption for caffeine.
In its original form, State House Bill 2379 prohibited the sale of any beverage that contained at least 6 mg of caffeine per ounce to anyone under the age of 18. But before it passed the Human Services Committee earlier this month, the bill’s sponsors amended it to focus on stimulants other than caffeine.
Now the bill prohibits the sale of beverages containing taurine, guarana, and ginseng. Purely caffeinated drinks, like coffee, are in the clear.
“We’re not going after sodas, we’re not going after Starbucks,” Rep. Laura Fine, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s not the caffeine causing problems, it’s these other additives.”
Fine said secondhand experience first led her to become wary of energy drinks.
“I’m a mom of teens,” she said. “Energy drinks were brought to my attention from one of my sons, who came home one day and said they went to the store and on their way home one of their friends got one of these, and how he was feeling not very good after work.”
This experience led her to look up research on energy drinks — and eventually to support a ban.
“On the [energy drink cans] it says children should not have these, so I think we take the next step to protect our kids and not let them buy them until they are 18,” she said.
A 2008 study, however, found no evidence that the stimulants impacted by the ban caused health problems.
“The amounts of guarana, taurine, and ginseng found in popular energy drinks are far below the amounts expected to deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse events,” said the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. “However, caffeine and sugar are present in amounts known to cause a variety of adverse health effects.”
A more recent study reached a similar conclusion: Moderate consumption of energy drinks poses no risk to healthy people.
“Limited ingestion of [energy beverages] by healthy people is not likely to cause major adverse effects, but binge consumption or consumption with alcohol may lead to adverse events,” said the 2010 Mayo Clinic study.
Caffeine was likely dropped from the bill in order to make it more popular, wrote Mike Billy, a reporter for the Illinois News Network.
“I think the legislators knew the bill would never pass if they included caffeine in the definition because caffeine is too popular and people would realize just how ridiculous the regulation is,” Billy wrote in an email to The DC News Foundation. “A server at a restaurant would have to check the age of anyone buying a soft drink.”
But practical considerations aside, permitting caffeine while banning taurine makes little scientific sense, he said.
“Caffeine actually has health risks and there have been no reports of negative health effects associated with taurine, guarana and ginseng in the amounts found in energy drinks,” he wrote. “It’s an arbitrary way to define an energy drink without any regard to science and it accomplishes nothing.”
Next the bill will move to the House floor, where at least one lawmaker has pledged to oppose it.
“We make too many rules in this state,” said Rep. Josh Harms, a Republican, in a statement to the Illinois News Network. “It’s that simple.”
A recent survey found that 59 percent of Americans oppose energy drink bans.
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