Bill Calls for Sugar-Substitute Ban

Gina Mangieri
Monday January 28, 2008

Many popular foods and drinks would be pulled from store shelves under a bill in the state Legislature to ban the sweetener aspartame.

While the Food and Drug Administration and many doctors say it's safe, a growing contingent of consumers thinks the additive is dangerous if not deadly. One lawmaker is bringing the debate to the Capitol.

Diet soda -- for many, a daily staple. But is what's inside hurting us?

Some consumers are organizing against the no-calorie sweetener aspartame that's found in numerous drinks and snacks. Critics say it's been linked to 92 symptoms and several deaths. Hawaii lawmaker Rep. Mele Carroll heard concerns from dozens of her own constituents with conditions they blame on aspartame.

"Some of them felt helpless, helpless in the sense of they don't know how to prove," Carroll said.

She drafted a bill that would ban the additive in any foods sold in Hawaii by the end of this year.

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"I think it's great when we do extreme legislation because it raises the issue and it gets all of our attention,” Carroll said.

Many doctors dispute the critics.

"Aspartame has been studied hundreds of times," said Dr. Kalani Brady, a physician and educator at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. “Nothing has ever been shown to be a detriment with aspartame. It's perfectly safe."

The FDA backs that position and some doctors warn people to be wary about some websites.

"The internet does not guarantee that its sources are all scientific," Brady said.

If the ban were to pass, stores and consumers would have some big changes ahead.

"Oh, we would shut down things, you know,” Brady said. “It's very difficult to look into all the products that aspartame is contained in. More than just an inconvenience, it would shut down economy."

In just a few days since the bill was introduced, it's already generating a lot of talk -- and if nothing else, Carroll is glad it's got people thinking about their health.

"We as a people have to make our own choices, but we should know exactly what we're putting into our bodies,” Carroll said.

The measure has passed first reading and has been referred to committees in the House and Senate.

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