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updated: 2/27/2014 11:13 AM

Legislators crack open energy drink ban, soda tax

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  • State lawmakers are considering raising taxes on sugary drinks and banning the sale of energy drinks to minors.

      State lawmakers are considering raising taxes on sugary drinks and banning the sale of energy drinks to minors.
    Associated Press File Photo

By Zachary White
The article was modified to correct the title of Illinois Retail Merchants Association President and CEO Rob Karr.

Caffeinated and sugary drinks, liquids that can both help people get through their days and cause health problems, are the target of proposed bans and new taxes in Illinois.

Legislation in Springfield would raise taxes on sugary sodas by a penny an ounce and ban the sale of caffeine-packed energy drinks to those under age 18.

Suburban health experts say children in particular can be harmed by a daily buzz.

Dr. Anthony Ebel, of Premier Wellness Chiropractic in Crystal Lake, said energy drinks create highs and lows in children who drink them.

"They get their energy drinks, so they get that high, then they need more. That's why they sell so many," Ebel said.

Ebel said that constant yin and yang is especially bad for children who are already dealing with a lot of stress. Children who have attention deficit or hyperactivity disorders, behavior issues, anxiety or difficulty focusing are especially at risk.

"It should be put to the same fate as cigarettes and alcohol," he said.

But many argue the state shouldn't be telling people not to buy legal products or raising taxes to achieve the same end.

The market for energy drinks has exploded with offerings in bottles of every color of the rainbow, and caffeine remains a large part of many Americans' daily routines.

Rob Karr, President and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said banning energy drink sales to minors would cause headaches for retailers.

"We'd literally have to read labels on every beverage product in order to determine if it's an energy drink," Karr said.

Karr said that unlike alcohol and tobacco, the definition of an energy drink is more intangible.

The sugary drink tax could generate $600 million for the cash-strapped state, supporters estimate, but critics say the higher taxes would kill jobs when the tax reduces consumption, which would lead to reduced production.

The penny tax would add 12 cents to a can of soda and $1.44 for a 12-pack.

Neither proposal has yet seen a hearing in Springfield, and they aren't guaranteed to get one this year.

State Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat, is heading the plan to stop the sale of energy drinks to minors, while the bills to add a tax on sugary drinks is being led by state Rep. Robyn Gabel, an Evanston Democrat, and state Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat.

This is not the first energy drink ban to come into the spotlight recently. A similar proposal was drafted in the Illinois House last year, but made little headway.

The Elk Grove Village-based American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should have no more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. A 8.46-ounce Red Bull has 80 mg of caffeine.

Some energy drink cans like AMP Energy even include a warning against children's use in fine print. AMP Energy's warning reads "Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine."

Health care officials say caffeine can cause anxiety, insomnia, seizures, digestive problems, elevated blood pressure and dehydration. In children heavy energy drink consumption can lead to obesity and dental problems.

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