The sale of ephedra was banned in New York State last week as Governor George Pataki signed a bill outlawing the herb that was been banned for sale earlier in the year in Suffolk County.
Storekeepers who now sell the product face a fine of up to $500, according to the new law, which does not cover over-the-counter medicines containing ephedra, which fall under the watch of the Federal Drug Administration.
“There is a lot of evidence that people are using ephedra to their detriment in many cases,” said Kristine Smith, spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health. “Many people, since it is an herb, a natural product, think it is good for you, but rather we have seen it associated with many serious illnesses and even death when used in conjunction with physical activity,” Smith said.
Smith said the state’s timing on this issue was based on the fact there were many studies and peer-reviewed articles published on the dangers of combining ephedra for weight loss and use in physical activities. “It was the weight of the evidence,” Smith said. “There have been a number of studies recently on ephedra and many peer-reviewed articles published on ephedra when it is used for weight loss in conjunction with athletic performance.”
Smith said that although New York State realizes banning products such as ephedra is typically the federal government’s job and that “the Federal Drug Administration is considering banning it, the governor felt now was the right time to ban it.”
The sponsor of the bill, New York State Senator Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R- Freeport), said he started his own personal research on the subject after reading about the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler last year, who died after taking ephedra during Spring Training and also pointed to two Suffolk County residents who died after taking the herb during the last two years as impetus for his interest. After researching the product, he said he found there were more than 100 deaths reported related to the use of ephedra.
“It was just horrific,” Fuschillo said. “It wasn’t regulated, there was no recommended use or dosage, and people thought it was a muscle building and weight loss pill.” Out of all the complaints lodged with government agencies against all natural herb products, Fuschillo said 61% were complaints about ephedra. “When you look at a product that is unregulated and causing death, it is time to do something about it,” he said.
Fuschillo, chairman of the State Senate Consumer Protection Committee, introduced the legislation last spring and held a public hearing on the idea.
Suffolk County Executive Robert Gaffney signed the bill banning ephedra sales in Suffolk County this past February. The bill, introduced by Legislator Jon Cooper (D-Huntington), followed an earlier Suffolk County ban on the sale of the product to minors. The bill was introduced, Cooper said at the time, because he had become concerned about the death of a 20-year-old ephedra user, the son of a constituent.
“I am happy it will help set a national trend,” Cooper said of the state ban. “This is something that ultimately had to be done at the federal level. My hope is that as states move to ban it, it will put pressure on the federal government to ban it.”