Buzzkill: FDA bans alcoholic energy drinks
November 30, 2010 5:34 PM
College students are anything but "Loko" for the recent ban of the popular alcoholic energy drink Four Loko that was recently pulled from the shelves due to potential health risks.
"I'm so upset they have been banned," said SF State sophomore Tiffany James, 19. "When I went up north for break, a 7-Eleven was still handing them out but warned us that we could die from drinking them. I've never seen the danger in dying from the delicious drink. They are so good."
The FDA is set to pull all flavors of the beverage, which was labeled a "public health concern" Dec. 13. Warning letters were sent to four beverage makers saying the addition of caffeine to alcoholic beverages is not approved by the agency and is an "unsafe food additive."
"I get college kids in here every weekend since the ban asking if we still have them," said Mark Azu, a 7-Eleven employee in Pacifica. "They were in high demand for the young kids, probably because they were so cheap."
Four Lokos cost roughly $3 and contain the equivalent of three bottles of beer and three cups of coffee in each 23.5-ounce can.
"It scares me to think young kids could get them so easily. I have had them and thought they were great, but I know how to drink in moderation," SF State senior Wesley Balbi, 26. "College kids on a mission to get drunk shouldn't be allowed to have them. The drink is way out of control for them."
Phusion Projects, the label that makes Four Loko, announced it would eliminate caffeine, as well as guarana and taurine, from their drinks so they can put them back on the shelves.
In Phusion's statement to CNN, it compared Four Loko to popular drinks like rum and coke or Irish coffee that also mix caffeine and alcohol.
James Wallen, 32, a bartender at Chug Pub and The Little Shamrock in San Francisco, said he serves caffeinated alcoholic drinks every weekend.
"They aren't dangerous. The main reason they are banning them is the energy combined with alcohol," Wallen said. "It would be like banning Red Bull and vodka.
"Anything is too dangerous if you drink enough of it," Wallen said. You could die if you drink too many Red Bull and vodkas or too many Coors Lights."
The FDA has issued a yearlong review, which will give the companies 15 days to either reformulate their products.
If the companies do not comply, they face possible seizure under federal law.
According to Phusion, the FDA has never had a clear policy on caffeinated alcohol.
"The only reason this particular drink has received so much attention than any other drink we prepare at a bar is because of the demographic they're marketing," Wallen said. "Young drinkers are their target.
"The cans are cheap, fruit- flavored and brightly colored. It grabs the young drinker's attention."
Caffeine can mask the effects of alcohol, leaving drinkers unaware of how intoxicated they are.
And that is what happened to the nine underage students at Central Washington University.
They were hospitalized after allegedly drinking Four Loko and mixing them with other drinks.
"I think it is absolutely ridiculous that we have to pay the price for some kids that couldn't drink responsibly. I mean who drinks a Four Loko with other alcohol? It is just kids asking for trouble," SF State freshman Tara Walker, 18, said.
San Francisco EMT Joseph Spoul believes that for the time being, the FDA has made the right decision by banning the "blackout in a can."
"They are extremely dangerous. College kids get wrapped up with the binge drinking and having something this powerful in a can they gulp down like soda is very unhealthy for your body," Spoul said. "Most young college students I see in danger for binge drinking just don't know when to stop."
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