Illinois To Ban Ephedra Products

Bottles of Ripped Fuel Metabolic Enchancer, which contains ephedra, are shown in New York Tuesday, June l8, 2002

Last fall, 16-year old Sean Riggins bought an ephedra supplement called "yellow jackets" at a gas station. He was hoping the pills would give him an athletic edge. Instead, experts say, they gave him a heart attack.

CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports his death was a wake-up call in his home state of Illinois, which this week will become the first state to ban the sale of ephedra products.

Other states are considering their own bans, after ephedra supplements were linked to thousands of heart attacks, strokes and other adverse reactions, and more than a hundred deaths.

Ephedra's already faced bans in college and pro sports and the U.S. military. Top medical groups are pushing for a national ban.

That's left many asking why the FDA -- which is supposed to regulate food and drugs -- seems conspicuously absent.

"If we wait for the FDA we run the risk of seeing more young men and women die unnecessarily," said Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "I think it's responsible to act on the information available, and do the right thing. Just because a big federal agency continues to 'study' the issue, there's plenty of evidence that ephedra has killed. We're not gonna wait for the FDA, we're going to act first, we'll be the first state to ban it, and hope it'll be a wake-up call to the federal government, to congress and the FDA to finally do something about this very serious issue that's killing young men and women."

The FDA wouldn't talk to CBS on camera, but says it's asked for legal guidance as to just what proof the agency needs to order ephedra off the market. It's a touchy question because dietary supplements are regulated as foods not drugs; they don't have to be proven safe or effective, and it's harder to force them off the market. The FDA has proposed warning labels for ephedra products -- that's pending.

The powerful ephedra lobby insists the products are safe when used as labeled, and that the bans stifle consumer freedom. Still, amid all the controversy, major companies are discontinuing ephedra sales. And top manufacturers, having trouble getting insurance, are switching to ephedra-free products. Even in the absence of FDA action, the ephedra industry appears to be dying a slow death.