FDA Could Ban Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages

U.S. regulators are expected to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks that contain caffeine amid rising safety concerns.

The Wall Street Journal reported that alcoholic beverages like Four Loko and Joose will no longer be able to contain caffeine under a series of regulatory actions expected from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies this week.

Phusion Projects LLC, the maker of Four LoKo, said Tuesday that it would remove the stimulants caffeine, guarana and taurine from its products nationally.

“We are confident that we will continue to grow our brands and remain innovative,” Chris Hunter, a co-founder of Phusion Projects, said in an interview with the Journal.

He said that the company’s contract manufacturers already have stopped making caffeinated versions of Four Loko.  He also said that Phusion is taking the step after trying unsuccessfully “to navigate a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels.”

United Brands Co., the maker of Joose, said it plans to follow the new regulations.  Chief Executive Michael Michail said the San Diego, California company would continue to “market Joose products in a legal and responsible manner.”

The federal restrictions follow a series of hospitalizations and deaths blamed in part of Phusion’s drinks.  Its Four Loko beverage comes in a colorful 23.5-ounce can and contains up to 12% alcohol by volume.

Senator Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in a statement to the Journal that the FDA plans to rule that caffeine is an unsafe food additive for alcoholic beverages.

The FDA has been reviewing the safety of malt beverages, vodkas and other alcoholic beverages infused with stimulants including caffeine for about a year.

The FDA plans to notify manufacturers of the drinks that “they are engaged in the potential illegal marketing of unsafe alcoholic drinks,” Schumer said.

The new restrictions could have the greatest impact on Phusion Projects because its Four Loko generates about $200 million in annual sales according to Beer Marketer’s estimates.

Phusion Projects says it markets its products responsibly and that consumers combine alcohol and caffeine safely in mixed drinks like rum-and-coke.  The company said on Sunday that it would start selling a non-caffeinated version of Four Loko in New York.

“We’re not turning a deaf ear to what’s going on,” Jaisen Freeman, a co-founder of Phusion Projects, said in a statement Sunday after the New York state accord was disclosed.

According to an ABC report, Jason Keiran, a 20-year-old college student, died after becoming wired and drunk after drinking at least three cans of the energy drink Four Loko.  This would be equivalent of 18 light beers and 6 cups of coffee.

The Keiran’s attorney said the Florida State sophomore picked up a friend’s gun after partying with his roommates for 30 hours straight on September 17.

“They say he started to act crazy. He pointed the gun at his head and everyone else. He said ‘I realize I’m freaking you guys out take the gun away from me,'” attorney Don Van Dingenen told ABC news.

The Keirans said that they believe the drink caused their son to become so manic and erratic that he accidentally shot himself.

The makers of Four Loko had no comment on the Keirans’ lawsuit, but told ABC that they condemned underage drinking, adding that their product was intended for only adults.

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