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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    FDA warns it could confiscate booze-caffeine energy drinks

    Nov. 18–The party may be over for fans of boozy energy drinks — caffeine-packed, sugar-loaded beverages thrust into the spotlight by the popularity of Four Loko, a 23.5-ounce drink packing the alcoholic punch of about four regular beers.

    The Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters Wednesday to four manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks, saying the caffeine added to their beverages is an “”unsafe food additive.””

    The government can seize the products if the companies continue to make them.

    Several college students have been hospitalized in recent months after consuming the drinks. The FDA said experts have raised concerns that the caffeine in the drinks can mask a person’s feeling of intoxication, leading to risky behavior.

    At least one Arizona incident was linked to Four Loko. Mesa police said an 18-year-old woman crashed an SUV into a tree after playing beer pong with the drink. She was hospitalized with several spinal fractures.

    In response to such incidents, four states — Washington, Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma — have banned the beverages. Other states are considering similar action.

    Phusion Projects, which manufactures Four Loko, announced late Tuesday that it would reformulate its drinks, removing the caffeine.

    Some Tucson liquor store owners said that although Four Loko made a splash, by and large they’re not unhappy to see it go.

    “”I don’t like it at all,”” said Maen Mdanat, owner of Axis Food Mart, 1540 E. Broadway. However, Mdanat said Four Loko has been flying off the shelves as word leaked out that it might be banned.

    “”We sell a lot of it,”” he said, “”especially over the last few weeks.””

    Mdanat said he’d prefer not to sell the drinks, but at the same time he needs to stay in business.

    “”I think it’s a good idea to ban it. Anything that’s hurting our kids, we don’t want it,”” he said.

    Dan Rodarte, who owns Lee’s Drive-in Liquor Store, 1202 N. Stone Ave., said sales of Four Loko have been steady, driven in part by media attention. Many buyers are college students; others are homeless or low-income people who want more alcoholic bang for their buck. Four Loko sells for about $2.50 per can in stores.

    “”It seems like they’re using the product to get that immediate high,”” Rodarte said.

    Still, government intervention or not, Rodarte said the craze probably was destined to burn out anyway. “”We’ve seen these products come and go,”” he said. “”I think it’s just a fad.””

    Rodarte said that instead of a ban, he would have liked clearer labeling about the beverages’ contents. “”I think a lot of people are naive about what’s in a particular can,”” he said.

    Sabrina Helm, a University of Arizona professor who specializes in consumer behavior, said the drinks’ “”demonish image”” only made them more appealing.

    “”It’s more or less a human reaction to something that’s going to be forbidden,”” said Helm, who is a faculty member in the Norton School of Consumer Sciences.

    In the case of Four Loko and similar products, a bad reputation can actually drive sales, she said.

    “”What’s a bad reputation? It’s a tantalizing reputation,”” even though that kind of publicity ultimately isn’t sustainable, she said.

    David Salafsky, director of Health Promotion and Preventative Services at the University of Arizona, called the FDA action “”a public-health victory.””

    “”We know that these products really pose significant risks to students and to young people,”” he said.

    FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the drinks’ combination of caffeine and alcohol constitutes a public-health concern and can lead to “”a state of wide-awake drunk.”” Evidence has shown that consumption of the drinks has led to alcohol poisoning, car accidents and assaults, she said.

    Phusion Projects’ statement said the company was removing caffeine from the drinks after unsuccessfully trying to deal with “”a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels.””

    “”We have repeatedly contended — and still believe, as do many people throughout the country — that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe,”” said Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright and Jaisen Freeman, who identify themselves as Phusion’s three co-founders and current managing partners.

    The FDA said it views Phusion Projects’ announcement as a positive step, but officials said they had not yet heard directly from the company about its timeline for taking the drinks off the market. The FDA also issued warning letters to Charge Beverages Corp., New Century Brewing Co. and United Brands Company Inc.

    Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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