The Illinois Senate voted 56-0 Thursday for legislation that would ban the sale and distribution of ephedra-based products that have been blamed for scores of deaths, including that of 16-year-old Lincoln resident Sean Riggins.
Senate Bill 1418, which would make it a crime to sell or distribute products containing the herbal stimulant, now goes to the House. If it eventually becomes law, Illinois would be the first state in the nation to ban the sale of ephedra.
“By passing this bill, we are sending a clear message that these kind of products are unacceptable and that we are going to be protecting consumers of all ages,” said its sponsor, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago.
Sean Riggins’ father, Kevin Riggins, stood next to Obama during floor debate on the bill. Riggins said he was cautiously optimistic about succeeding in his fight to take ephedra off store shelves. His son, a high school football player, died in September of a heart attack after taking an unspecified amount of ephedra caplets.
On Monday, the Lincoln City Council voted to ban the sale of ephedra products to minors. A similar ordinance is pending before the Logan County Board.
“I am happy and yet cautious, because we’re only about three-fifths of the way there,” Riggins said of the Senate vote. “We it through the House and signed by the governor, so while I am happy, I’m going to save the good cigar for when the governor puts his signature on it.”
Ephedra supplements are most often marketed as athletic-performance enhancers or weight-loss aides, but Obama said those claims have no merit.
“There is no proven medical benefit from these products,” he said. “Studies from the Rand Corporation and others have shown that the weight-loss results are no more effective then if somebody took a walk every day and watched their diet.”
Riggins said that while there has been no public opposition to the bill so far, there has been some private opposition.
“Some of the ephedra industry lobbying organizations have bombarded some of our senators with e-mails and faxes from places like Texas that don’t want this happening in Illinois,” he said.
The only concern addressed during brief debate on the bill was how retailers would be notified. Obama said that normal regulatory channels would be used to let retailers know which products they are forbidden to sell.
An identical proposal is expected to be voted on soon in the House.
In addition to the state and local efforts, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a final decision on the fate of ephedra in the weeks ahead.