FDA Expected to Ban Caffeinated Alcohol Drinks

WEDNESDAY Nov. 17, 2010 -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was set to rule Wednesday on the safety of caffeinated alcoholic beverages that have reportedly left dozens of young adults sick or hospitalized.

The announcement comes amid a growing backlash against so-called energy drinks that mix caffeine and alcohol, even though such beverages are becoming increasingly popular with college students and even children. The drinks are regularly consumed by 31 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 34 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who has supported a ban on the drinks that are marketed under such names as Four Loko and Joose, reported Tuesday on his Web site that the FDA would outlaw the products because they are an "unsafe food additive to alcoholic beverages."

Schumer, a Democrat, also said the Federal Trade Commission planned to notify manufacturers that "they are engaged in the potential illegal marketing of unsafe alcoholic drinks."

Meanwhile, the maker of Four Loko said Tuesday that it would remove caffeine and other stimulants from its four different flavors of alcoholic drinks. Four Loko has up to 12 percent alcohol in a 23.5-ounce can, according to published reports.

Four Loko's manufacturer, Chicago-based Phusion Projects, insists that the drinks are safe. But, in a statement posted on the company's Web site, it said it was removing the caffeine "after trying unsuccessfully to navigate a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels."

The company said it doesn't agree that mixing caffeine and alcohol is inherently unsafe. "We have repeatedly contended -- and still believe, as do many people throughout the country -- that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced," the Web site statement read.

Phusion Projects also noted there are 40 other similar beverages on the market, while the CDC reports that about 25 brands are available.

According to the CDC, caffeinated alcoholic beverages can have alcohol levels that range from 5 percent to 12 percent, compared to 4 percent to 5 percent for beer.

People who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks are three times more likely to binge drink than drinkers who do not mix alcohol with energy drinks. And drinkers who consume alcohol-laced energy drinks are about twice as likely as drinkers who do not report mixing alcohol with energy drinks to report being taken advantage of sexually, to report taking advantage of someone else sexually, and to report riding with a driver who was under the influence of alcohol, according to the CDC.

More information

To learn more about caffeinated alcoholic beverages, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Posted: November 2010


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