Four Loko sparks FDA worries

The FDA decided that caffeine is an unsafe additive to alcoholic drinks.

nly two cans of the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko remain on the shelf at U Liquors in Stadium Village Tuesday after the busy weekend.  The store doubled its regular order of Four Loko this week for Wednesday’s delivery because of its recent increase in popularity.

Chelsey Rosetter

nly two cans of the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko remain on the shelf at U Liquors in Stadium Village Tuesday after the busy weekend. The store doubled its regular order of Four Loko this week for Wednesday’s delivery because of its recent increase in popularity.

Sarah Nienaber

The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that caffeine is an âÄúunsafe food additiveâÄù to alcoholic beverages.
Warning letters were sent to four companies, including Phusion Projects LLC, the makers of Four Loko, stating that further action, including seizure of the product, could be possible if the companies donâÄôt act in 15 days.
The companies, Phusion Projects, Charge Beverages, New Century Brewing and United Brands Company, must either take the caffeine out of the beverages or pull the products from shelves.
The Federal Trade Commission also warned the four companies that the marketing practices being used are unfair and deceptive, violating the FTC Act.
This comes after several students nationwide were hospitalized from drinking the beverage that reportedly put a student from Central Washington University at a blood alcohol content of .35, an almost lethal level.
Several states, including Washington, Oklahoma, Utah and Michigan, have already completely banned the beverages.
Phusion Projects had already announced Tuesday that caffeine, guarana and taurine would no longer mix in Four Loko.
âÄúWe have repeatedly contended âÄî and still believe, as do many people throughout the country âÄî that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe,âÄù said Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright and Jaisen Freeman, PhusionâÄôs three founders, in a statement. âÄúIf 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.âÄù
One of the most concerning things about Four Loko is the amount of alcohol a standard 23.5-ounce can contains âÄî about 4.7 standard drinks, said Dana Farley, associate program director at Boynton Health Service. The high amounts of caffeine laced into the beverage could counteract the drowsiness effect of alcohol, he said, which means drinkers canâÄôt tell how the alcohol is affecting them until it is too late.
One can of Four Loko contains 12 percent alcohol âÄî more than twice the alcohol content in a typical can of beer.
The high amounts of sugar in the beverage mask the taste of alcohol, making drinkers consume more alcohol faster than they normally would, Farley said.
âÄúItâÄôs a lot of alcohol that encourages you to drink it faster than you normally would,âÄù Farley said of the amount of alcohol in Four Loko. âÄúItâÄôs encouraging over-consumption. For most students, five drinks in a short period of time is going to put them over the .08 level for driving. ItâÄôs going to impair their behavior [and] their judgment, and it makes them more vulnerable to being a victim of a crime.âÄù
University student Taylor Brown, who recently turned 21, also recently popped the top on Four Loko. He isnâÄôt overly concerned about the health risks that come with the beverage.
âÄúI just figured IâÄôm not going too overboard with it,âÄù he said. For him, the beverage is a cheap alternative to other liquors and one that keeps him awake so that he can stay out late.
George Medich, owner of U-Liquors in Stadium Village, has had the drink on his shelves since its debut in 2008 and retails the cans for $2.79 each. He says the drink isnâÄôt selling to as many college students as some might think, but is definitely popular among lower-income customers.
Dan Erickson, store manager at Dinkytown Wine and Spirits, said the store has carried the beverage for a little more than a month and agrees that while it is selling well, the audience varies.
Colleges nationwide, including Harvard University and Boston College, have already taken action by banning Four Loko and similar drinks.