Ephedra ban irks some, pleases others
December 30, 2003
By Jeff Munson
Tribune city editor
A federal government ban Tuesday on the sale ephedra-based dietary supplements was greeted with mixed reaction by South Shore retailers who sell the product.
“I think this is ridiculous. We are over-regulated enough as it is,” said Jennifer Akins, manager of Alpine Liquor on Lake Tahoe Boulevard regarding the announcement by the Bush administration.
Beginning in March, the sale of the herbal stimulant as a dietary product will be prohibited. It is the government’s first ban on a dietary supplement, which is believed to have caused at least 155 deaths and dozens of heart attacks and strokes.
Akins said she sells “quite a bit” of the product in the store, to customers from all walks of life. The store does not sell the product to minors.
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“It comes down to the responsibility of each person and their own health. That’s why warning labels are printed on it,” Akins said.
Ephedra should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco but an outright ban is going too far, said Nathan Castellanos, manager of Sports Nutrition Warehouse on Lake Tahoe Boulevard.
“The problem is people misuse it, but there are a lot of substances that are misused and are just as dangerous,” he said, adding that aspirin overdoses cause more deaths a year than ephedra.
“What’s happened is that people began to use it with a mind-set that more is better, so they’d take four pills instead of one. They liked the adrenaline kick they got from it, and because you build a tolerance to it people would take more and more,” he said.
But Castellanos insists the product is a safe and effective way to lose weight when it is correctly used and directions are followed.
“Obviously people with high blood pressure and heart problems should not take the product,” he said.
Over the past 18 months, sales of the product have slid as retailers and distributors have quit selling or are phasing it out. At one time, ephedra-based dietary products made up about 10 percent of Sports Nutrition Warehouse sales, Castellanos said.
But there are new products on the market that contribute to weight loss by strengthening the body’s metabolism and giving off a boost of energy without the side effects from ephedra, he said.
Grass Roots Natural Foods had already begun to phase out ephedra-based products before Tuesday’s ban was announced, said assistant manager Natasha Maxwell.
“Our distributor has been bringing in ephedra-free products, she said. “After the baseball player (Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher Steve Bechler) died, that’s when we saw a big change and it was no longer a mainstream dietary product.”
California, New York and Illinois all passed some form of ban on the product, with California raising the legal age to 18 to buy it. Many convenience stores, like 7-Elevens stopped selling the product entirely last year.
Tahoe Valley Pharmacy owner Doug Mundy said he doesn’t sell the dietary product in the store and it’s no great loss to him that the stimulant was banned.
“The food and drug administration is there for the consumer, so when they feel a product is putting the consumer at jeopardy, then it is in the consumer’s best interest that they take it off the shelves,” he said.
Ephedra is used in over-the-counter decongestants because it opens the lungs for people with breathing problems. The ban will not affect over-the-counter medications, just dietary supplements.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report