Nutrition Business Journal
Less energy for Chicago?

Less energy for Chicago?

The City of Chicago may join Health Canada in taking charge of caffeinated beverage regulation. Alderman Edward Buke's proposal suggests banning the distribution of energy drinks containing more than 180 mg of caffeine as well as Taurine or Guarana in Chicago.

Beware, Chicagoans. Soon your mid-day, reenergizing drink may no longer be available.

At the City Council meeting last Thursday, Alderman Edward Burke proposed an ordinance banning “highly caffeinated” energy drinks in Chicago. The proposal comes after months of scrutiny of the energy drink industry and reports of increased hospitalizations associated with these beverages. Brands like 5-Hour Energy, Full Throttle and Monster Energy would be banished from the city, unless they altered their drinks.

The ordinance states that “no person shall sell, give away, barter, exchange or otherwise furnish any energy drink,” and defines energy drinks as “a canned or bottled beverage which contains an amount of caffeine exceeding or equal to 180 milligrams-per-container and containing Taurine or Guarana.” Those who violate the ordinance face fines of $100 to $500 for each offense.

This means a 24-ounce can of Monster Energy would be removed from the shelves, but a 16-ounce can only contains 160 mg of caffeine, and therefore could still be sold. A 16-ounce can of Full Throttle, which consists of 200 mg of caffeine, would also get the boot. And while many coffee drinks contain much more than 180 mg of caffeine—a grande Starbucks coffee has 330 mg—they don’t contain taurine or guarana.

“What’s more concerning is the introduction, the preamble," said Marc Ullman, partner and attorney at Ullman, Shapiro & Ullman LLP. "Alderman Burke is saying the reason that the city has to take action is that energy drinks are supplements and supplements are unregulated. Which is just wrong.”

The 180 mg limit seems to be the informal standard for caffeine in energy drinks. Health Canada passed a similar rule to Burke’s proposal that came into effect Jan. 1. The new law states that all single-serving caffeine beverages can only contain 180 mg of caffeine, and resealable bottles can only contain 400 mg per liter.

Due to these new standards, 28 energy drinks needed reformulation, according to the Toronto Star. These beverages would face similar pressures in Chicago.

What are the chances?

Ullman said that yes, it is a feasible proposal, but, "whether there is a scientific basis for it I would question."

The ordinance first needs approval from the City Council Committee on Health and Environmental Protection before moving on to the City Council.

The Chicago City Council is known for their outlandish proposals, including banning baby bottles, foie gras and even elephants at the Lincoln Park Zoo. An editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times says, “This is a job for the FDA, not the City Council.” Along similar lines, Ullman said that if energy drinks really are a problem, then it should be dealt with by the FDA.

But the energy drink issue has simmered at a municipal level for some time. Fellow Chicago alderman, George Cardenas, proposed in November 2012 a ban on the sale of energy drinks to anyone under 21, and that didn’t pass. Burke’s proposal would go well beyond the age restriction.

It's not just Chicago looking into these regulations either. Ullman said there has also been similar talk in Nassau County, N.Y., and in Miami.

"They've thought about it," he said. "It's something that's on the table."

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