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Illinois Bans Sales of Ephedra
30 May 2003
by Wyn Snow, Managing Editor

This past Sunday (May 25th), Illinois became the first state to ban all sales of ephedra herbal supplements. Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Penalties become stiffer for repeat offenders. The ban became effective immediately.

The new law does not apply to ephedra in cold remedies or make it illegal to possess ephedra; people in Illinois can still buy such products over the Internet or travel to adjacent states.

Impetus for the law rose from the death of 16-year-old Sean Riggins, a middle linebacker on the Lincoln high school football team, who was taking an ephedra supplement in hopes of becoming faster and stronger in order to join the first-string football team. According to his parents, Sean had no history of heart problems and had passed several sports physicals.

In signing the new law, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich said, "We have to make sure that (young athletes) can no longer go to the store and buy ephedra as easily as they can chewing gum."

There is a strong trend toward increased restrictions on ephedra supplements. Earlier this May, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed a law that bans the sale of all diet supplements to children under 18. The FDA has proposed to put a "black box" warning label on all ephedra supplement products. More than a few manufacturers and retailers have stopped making and selling supplements with ephedra—including General Nutrition Centers (GNC), 7-Eleven, and NBTY, maker of Puritan's Pride.

Among sports athletic associations, ephedra use has been banned by the NFL, NCAA and International Olympic Committee. Contributing to these bans were the deaths of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who suffered heat stroke after taking three ephedra capsules earlier this year, as well as Northwestern University defensive back Rashidi Wheeler and Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Korey Stringer, who died under similar circumstances in 2001.

The Ephedra Education Council says approximately 15 million Americans consume more than 3 billion servings of ephedra per year, where a "serving" would generally mean a single tablet. The Council also says that ephedra supplements are safe when taken as directed.

Research is not yet conclusive for either side of this debate. Some studies indicate no significant differences in the levels of serious health problems between groups of people who use or do not use ephedra. Yet no one doubts that ephedra is a potent herb, and the FDA continues to collect reports of serious adverse events associated with its use.


Brandon Loomis. "Illinois Adopts Statewide Ephedra Ban." The Associated Press, 25 May 2003.

Jim Ritter. "Ephedra Sales Banned in Illinois." Chicago Sun-Times, 26 May 2003.

United Press International. "Illinois Bans Ephedra." 16 May 2003.end-of-story




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