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Illinois Is About To Adopt Ban On Sale of Ephedra

May 17, 2003 | San Diego Union Tribune

With a bill headed for the Illinois governor's desk, the state is to become the first in the nation to ban the sale of the controversial herbal supplement ephedra.

The Illinois House voted 117-0 late Thursday night to ban sales of the diet supplement, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has pledged to sign it. The Senate passed the bill 56-0 in March.

The once-popular weight-loss products have been blamed for more than 100 deaths and thousands of adverse reactions, including heart attacks, seizures and strokes.

Several states are considering similar bans, including California, New York, Texas and Massachusetts.

Earlier this week, the California Senate approved a ban on ephedra products and the measure is headed for the state Assembly.

Yesterday, Metabolife International, the San Diego company that produces the top-selling ephedra diet aid, Metabolife 356, said the action by the Illinois Legislature was a blow to consumer freedom.

"Adult Americans in Illinois will now be deprived of their freedom to make an educated choice in using ephedrine-based products for safe and effective weight control," said Metabolife spokeswoman Jan Strode.

Metabolife and other ephedra companies insist that their products are safe when used according to label directions.

But many medical experts say the product is risky even at recommended doses, while providing minimal benefit.

Earlier this year, doctors blamed the death of 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler from heat stroke on his use of an ephedra pill made by New Jersey-based Cytodyne Technologies. Since then, the company has stopped making ephedra supplements.

The Food and Drug Administration has also proposed putting stronger warning labels on ephedra products, but stopped short of the ban called for by the American Medical Association and some consumer groups.

Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who has proposed federal legislation that would require diet-supplement companies to prove their products are safe before marketing them, praised his home state for its "courageous and timely" action.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, Durbin also called for the FDA to remove ephedra products from the market.

"This dramatic step by Illinois is further evidence of our federal government's failure to take decisive action against ephedra, forcing state and local governments to step in and prevent more needless injuries and deaths from this dangerous substance," Durbin said. "I urge you to untangle the red tape that has stopped you from protecting American families from the dangers of ephedra."

If the Illinois bill is signed into law, it will become a misdemeanor to sell ephedra supplements in the state, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Repeat offenders could face five years in jail and a $20,000 fine.

The bill does not make it a crime to possess ephedra diet supplements, which could still be bought over the Internet or in other states.

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