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Ashley Gork/MEDILL

Chicagoans face a possible ban on highly caffeinated energy drinks based on a proposal presented by the City Council on Tuesday.

Caffeine debate raises a big buzz at City Hall

by Ashley Gork
March 05, 2013

Highly caffeinated energy drinks, such as Monster Energy, Red Bull and Rockstar, may be banned for all Chicago consumers, according to a new proposal put forth by members of the Chicago City Council on Tuesday.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) leads this motion, suggesting a citywide ban of all highly caffeinated energy drinks for both children and adults with a violation fee of $100-$500 per incident.

Burke first became interested in this topic after reading a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report that stated: “The number of annual hospital visits connected to highly-caffeinated drinks doubled from the year 2007 to the year 2011.” The national total of emergency room visits involving energy drinks in 2011 was a 20,783.


 The Chicago Medical Society, an organization representing more than 17,000 Cook County physicians, also supports the ban on these super-caffeinated beverages.


“We base our opposition on the growing evidence that these drinks pose serious health risks, including possible fatalities, to both adults and children,” said Howard Axe, the president of the Chicago Medical Society. “A child or adolescent who has a pre-existing heart condition and drinks just two of these beverages runs a very real risk of having a fatal heart attack.”


In a written statement to the council, James Shepherd, who lost his 15-year-old son, Brian, in January 2008 wrote: “Over five years later, his death remains unexplained. I strongly suspect, as does the rest of his family, that the energy drink was contributory in his death, if not the whole cause.”


However, this proposal does not come without a bitter debate from other aldermen and members of the American Beverage Association. Coffee-drinker Robert Fioretti (2nd) is one of several aldermen who demand more concrete facts before voting on this ordinance.

“And the cup of coffee I have every morning, or two or three, or four or five, at what point do these become an energy drink?” Fioretti asked a flustered Axe. “I would assume that you in the medical profession would make your prognosis based on actual, actual, actual data. So where is your data?” The alderman then referred to the bits of information provided as broad assumptions and presentation-based facts.


Statistics defining the amount of caffeine in energy drinks vary from both organizations.
“The total amount of caffeine in a can or bottle of an energy drink varies from about 80 to more than 500 milligrams, compared with about 100 mg in a 5-ounce cup of coffee or 50 mg in a 12-ounce cola,” reported the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


Meanwhile, the American Beverage Association wrote, “most energy drinks contain significantly less caffeine than a similarly-sized coffeehouse coffee. In fact, many only contain about half.”