A ‘Monster’ of an ordinance

By Editorial Board

Alderman Edward Burke (14th Ward) proposed an ordinance banning the sale of energy drinks within city limits during a Jan. 17 Chicago City Council meeting, arguing that the drinks are unhealthy, especially for young consumers.

The ordinance cites a Food and Drug Administration report alleging that Monster Energy drinks have caused five deaths since 2009. The FDA has also received reports of health incidents related to other energy drinks. While such beverages can be dangerous, five reported deaths in four years is not a legitimate cause for such extreme regulation, considering cigarettes are responsible for 443,000 deaths per year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the regulation Burke is proposing is much harsher than current tobacco regulations.

The proposed ordinance specifically names Red Bull, Monster Energy, Rockstar and 5-Hour Energy, but it would also ban the sale of any drink containing 180 milligrams of caffeine per container or any amount of guarana or taurine, staple ingredients in most energy supplements. Those caught selling energy drinks would be fined $100–$500 under Burke’s proposal. The fine for selling cigarettes to minors is $200 in Illinois for the first offense.

Consuming energy drinks isn’t healthy, but smoking, drinking alcohol and eating certain foods aren’t healthy either. Some of the more potent energy drinks should be regulated like cigarettes, with more prominent warning labels and a minimum age for purchase. Banning them outright would be inconsistent with current regulations on consumable products, and consumers could resort to smuggling.

An energy drink ban may be ridiculous, but it is not unprecedented. In September 2012, New York City passed a ban on the sale of “sugary drinks” exceeding 16 ounces in restaurants, according to CNN.com. Such measures could make the population healthier, but they come at the expense of personal choice and responsibility. Many legal products are unhealthy in large doses, but the responsibility to maintain a healthy diet must fall on the individual.

The proposed ordinance does, however, mention that some energy drinks are marketed as dietary supplements, allowing energy drink companies to avoid adhering to soft drink regulations. An ordinance, or federal law, requiring energy drink manufacturers to provide more health information on labels would make a lot more sense than banning the beverages. Ill. Sen. Dick Durbin asked the FDA last year to investigate the health risks of energy drinks and, among other things, regulate how the drinks are labeled, according to the senator’s website.

Banning energy drinks would be unfair to consumers and beverage companies if other potentially dangerous products remain on the shelves. Should the FDA find that there are serious, previously unseen concerns with energy drink consumption among young people, then perhaps they should be regulated by imposing age restrictions rather than banning them outright.