The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters this week to four companies that make beverages commonly referred to as “blackout in a can.” The FDA charges that these drinks containing a potent combination of alcohol and caffeine are unsafe.
The companies receiving the warning were Phusion Projects LLC, United Brands Co., New Century Brewing Co., and Charge Beverages. The beverages’ brand names include Four Loko, Joose, Moonshot, and Core High Gravity.
“There is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner.
There have been a number of incidents across the country in which hospitalizations and even fatalities have been attributed to consumption of these caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
At an October house party on the Central Washington University campus in Rosyln, Wash., where these drinks were served, nine underage college students were hospitalized with symptoms of life-threatening overdoses or intoxication.
Several states are considering a ban on such beverages, and two, Washington and Michigan, already have.
Four Loko, one of the most popular of the drinks, comes in fruit flavors and brightly-colored 23.5 oz. cans. At 12 percent alcohol, drinking one can is roughly equivalent to consuming four or five beers.
Trying to consume four of the brews has become a popular goal among young drinkers.(Is that why one of the drinks is branded “Four Loko”—you have to be crazy to drink four? What binge-minded college student can resist that challenge?)
With 12 percent alcohol and an added caffeine boost, swilling three Loko beverages is akin to drinking 18 beers, according to some physicians.
Indeed, the alcohol content of Four Loko is reflected in the blood alcohol levels of Roslyn, Wash., partygoers. They ranged from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent.
White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske commended the agencies for acting to curb the sale of drinks he said were “designed, branded and promoted to encourage binge drinking”.
Phusion Projects, which makes Four Loko, said this week it would remove caffeine and other stimulants from all of its beverages, just hours after U.S. Senator Charles Schumer predicted the FDA warning on his website.
However, bloggers have been taking on this topic, with many complaining that these warning and bans are yet another attempt by the government to lessen people’s freedom to choose how they live their lives.
Trouble is, the people to whom these drinks are targeted are not necessarily known for making wise decisions in such matters.
STORY UPDATE 11/21: Phusion Projects, the company that makes Four Loko, has announced that it will remove the stimulants caffeine, guarana and taurine from its beverages nationwide. The company will produce only non-caffeinated Four Loko drinks from now on.
However, the company’s founders still aren’t convinced their product is unsafe for consumers.
“If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced,” the founders said in a statement on their website.
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