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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Washington state agency bans caffeinated alcohol drinks

    OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state Liquor Control Board on Wednesday approved an emergency ban of caffeinated alcohol drinks, the type of beverage that sickened nine Central Washington University students last month during an off-campus party.

    Board members said they took the action because of public health and safety concerns. The ban will take effect Nov. 18 and remain in place for 120 days while the board goes through rule-making procedures for a permanent ban. The state Legislature also is expected to consider passing a law early next year banning the drinks.

    “”We have been concerned for some time about the dangers posed by alcohol energy drinks. At my request, the board this morning voted to ban this new breed of alcohol drinks in the state of Washington,”” Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a news conference after the vote. “”The Liquor Control Board has a duty to protect the safety of the people of Washington state. It has fulfilled that duty by banning these drinks.””

    Gregoire said she had been concerned that caffeinated alcohol drinks were targeting young people.

    “”Reports of inexperienced or underage drinkers consuming them in reckless amounts have given us cause for concern,”” she said. “”With hospitalizations and near-lethal blood alcohol levels, many of these young folks were unaware just how drunk they had become. … Quite simply these drinks are real trouble for our youth.””

    The six women and three men who became sick at the Oct. 8 house party in Roslyn, Kittitas County, had consumed Four Loko, a product some people have dubbed “”blackout in a can.”” It is among some two dozen such products on the market that combine a stimulant with alcohol.

    All of the students who became ill were under 21 and had high blood-alcohol readings. One woman nearly died, officials said, noting that consuming a single, 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko, which is 12 percent alcohol, is considered comparable to drinking five or six beers.

    Since the incident, various groceries across the state have pulled caffeinated alcohol products from their shelves.

    Jim Halstrom, a lobbyist for Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko, objected to the action during the board meeting.

    “”No one is more upset than we are when our products are abused or consumed illegally by underage drinkers. But we also believe curbing alcohol abuse or underage drinking will not be accomplished by singling out a lone product or beverage category,”” he said. “”We think the true answer lies with increased education and awareness by all and with respect for the law.””

    After the meeting, Halstrom said, “”We’re concerned about the haste with which this was addressed. We understand that much of the impetus for this came out of the Roslyn event. What we have seen from the police reports … our product was not identified as at fault.

    “”I’m not saying our product was not consumed. I’m saying we’re not at all sure that our product was the one that created the significant problems,”” he said, referring to the students becoming ill.

    This month, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission banned Four Loko and dozens of similar drinks.

    Last year, 25 state attorneys general, including Washington state Attorney General McKenna, asked the Food and Drug Administration to examine the beverages. Washington state liquor stores do not carry the products, but many convenience stores do, according to the state Liquor Control Board.

    Critics say the hefty dose of caffeine in the drinks masks the effects of the alcohol.

    Makers of the products counter that combining alcohol and caffeine is not new. Fans of the beverages compare them to cocktails such as Irish coffee, rum-and-cola and vodka-and-Red Bull, all of which combine alcohol and a stimulant.

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