After nearly a year of examining the combination of alcohol and caffeine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Saturday an official ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages. This brings to an end the debate over Four Loko, the product at the center of discussion.
“The FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is ‘generally recognized as safe,’ which is the legal standard,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, in a press release. “To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.”
Taking preemptive action, Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko, announced last Tuesday that it was removing caffeine, guarana and taurine from all its products nationwide.
Following controversy over the safety of Four Loko, sometimes called “blackout in a can”, four states – Washington, Utah, Michigan and Oklahoma – have already banned the product.
Four Loko is sold in 12 different flavors and a colorful 23.5 oz. can. The beverage has an alcohol content of 12 percent and contains 135 milligrams of caffeine. One source likened the beverage to the equivalent of five beers and four cups of coffee.
Health officials say the addition of caffeine in alcohol masks the alcohol’s effects, causing consumers to drink more than they normally would. However, Phusion Projects has maintained that the controversial combination is not a hazard.
“If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees . . . would face the same scrutiny that our products recently faced,” said Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright and Jaisen Freeman, the company’s managing partners.
“We are taking this step after trying, unsuccessfully, to navigate a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels.”
Among those speaking out against the drink is Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), who called the drink a toxic brew. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Schumer received $142,100 in campaign contributions from alcohol companies during the 2009-2010 election cycle.
Phusion Projects has 15 days from last Saturday to take action, allowing stores in California to still legally order and sell the product for the time being.
Olive Market, a local convenience store, has been selling Four Loko for a year but said the drink only recently became popular.
“They didn’t like it before, but now because they heard it was going to be banned they’re buying it in dozens,” said Olive Market manager Tony Sangh. “We decided to stop ordering it because it’s going to be banned; we didn’t want to take a loss.”
Junior atmospheric sciences major, Alex Neigher, is not upset about the ban.
“I’m terrified of the stuff,” he said. “If you pour it into a glass it just looks like something you should not drink. It looks like gasoline. People drink because it gets you really drunk and it’s like three bucks.”
However, Nick Hallchurch, a junior political science major, said he drinks Four Loko more for the alcohol content than the caffeine and will still buy the beverage even after the caffeine has been removed.
“I’d rather get drunk than really pumped up,” he said. “I drink them when I don’t have time to get drunk using beer.”
Scrutiny over Four Loko first started in mid-October when students in both Washington and New Jersey were sent to the hospital after consuming large quantities of the drink.
MELISSA FREEMAN can be reached at email@example.com.