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Four Loko and Joose (Were) on Your Grocery Shelves

Dangerous Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages

Get the Ax

Heard of Four Loko? Popular drinks such as Four Loko and Joose contain as much as 2-3 coffee cups worth of caffeine and twice the amount of alcohol as a bottle of beer per container – a potent, dangerous mix that can be extremely hazardous for teens and adults alike.

In July, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the FDA to investigate the safety of these drinks. In his letter to the State Liquor Authority Nov. 10, Schumer noted that the FDA has never approved or determined that caffeine in alcoholic beverages like Four Loko is “generally recognized as safe,” which therefore allows the New York State Liquor Authority to implement a state ban on their sale. While the FDA continues its review, Schumer said the state must act now and immediately ban these drinks in New York, and on Nov. 10 he called on the New York State Liquor Authority to immediately ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including the drink Four Loko, from being sold in New York State.

“Many teenagers are buying this drink for its low price and high alcohol content. That’s the ‘drunk to dollar ratio’ to teens and young adults. You can buy a can of Joose in our local supermarkets for $2.99. One 23.5 oz. can, with a 9.9 percent ABV, equals about 4.5 beers. Some cashiers don’t even realize it’s alcohol. As parents I think we have a responsibility to be aware and educated on all the risks facing our children. This is out there and available. Families should be talking about the health and safety risks and realities of using these and any kind of alcohol drinks,” cautioned Lisbeth Shibley, a Manhasset parent and CASA executive director.

Compounded with its health risks, beverages like Four Loko pose a unique danger because they target young people. Also in July, Schumer called on the FTC to investigate whether companies that sell caffeinated alcoholic beverages, such as Four Loko and Joose, were marketing the drinks to minors by branding them to look like energy drinks. The style of the beverages – with vibrantly colored aluminum can colors and funky designs – could appeal to younger consumers, increasing the likelihood that the beverages will be consumed by young adults and creating a problem for parents and business owners who might be misled by the branding. “Alcoholic energy drinks are of serious danger to our children. Packaging these drinks in a colorful and playful way makes it even more difficult for teens and parents to differentiate its danger. Manhasset CASA supports all Federal and State studies of these beverages to ensure that our teens and youth can grow up safe and healthy,” stated Cathy Samuels, Manhasset CASA project director.

A recent study found that young and underage drinkers who combine alcohol with caffeine, which occurs with increasing frequency given the prevalence of beverages like Four Loko and Joose, are more likely to suffer injury, be the victim of sexual assault, drive while intoxicated, and require medical attention than drinkers who consume caffeine-free beverages. In 2008, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and MillerCoors LLC reformulated caffeinated alcoholic beverages under pressure from several states and regulatory bodies, but smaller companies like the manufacturers of Four Loko and Joose continue to sell the increasingly popular drinks.

These drinks have led to student hospitalizations across the country – including six students at Ramapo College in New Jersey and nine students at Central Washington University. Michigan and Oklahoma have already banned Four Loko, while a number of other states and cities have considered instituting a ban. Universities across the country have also acted to ban the drink – including Ramapo College, Worcester State University, the University of Rhode Island and the Wentworth Institute of Technology – in addition to the growing list of universities that have warned their students about its risks.

On Nov. 15 Governor David A. Paterson and State Liquor Authority (SLA) Chairman Dennis Rosen announced that the SLA had reached a voluntary agreement with Four Loko producer Phusion Products to stop shipping alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants to New York State by Friday, Nov. 19. In addition, Phusion Products has agreed to fund alcohol awareness programs to educate licensees and consumers about the dangers of alcohol and binge drinking.

Governor Paterson also announced Nov. 15 that the State’s largest beer distributors have voluntarily agreed to stop selling malt beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants. Under the voluntary agreement reached late Saturday, Nov. 13, beer distributors will stop placing orders for these alcoholic energy drinks (AEDs) immediately. Alcohol Energy Drinks are flavored malt beverages in which caffeine or other stimulants such as guarana, taurine or ginseng have been intentionally added in high levels by the manufacturer. AEDs do not include products that are flavored with coffee or real tea.

Beer distributors will be given until Dec. 10 to clear their inventory of the products, with retailers given an additional time to sell off existing product.