CAL was poised to address the ABC Commission on this issue, but now determines it’s not necessary
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Before the North Carolina ABC Commission got a chance to weigh in on caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is moving to ban the popular drinks that many refer to as “liquid cocaine” or “blackout in a can.”
“This is certainly a win for alcohol control not only in the state, but across the nation,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We were poised to address the state ABC Commission on this issue on Thursday but determined it wasn’t necessary since the FDA announced its ruling.”
Although not an outright ban on the drinks, the agency sent letters to four makers telling them that their products don’t meet safety requirements, that they are marketing their products in violation of federal law and have 15 days to say how they will address the problem. A day earlier Phusion Projects Inc., producer of Four Lokos, one of the most popular brands, had announced that it was voluntarily removing caffeine, taurine and guarona from its formula following pressure from a number of states that had already banned the drinks.
United Brands Company Inc., which makes Joose and Max, has said it would comply with FDA regulations.
Often sold in 23.5-ounce cans, the controversial drinks include up to 12 percent alcohol (equal to about a half dozen 12 oz. Busch Lights) and 156 milligrams of caffeine (as much as a tall Starbucks coffee). They have become the party drink of choice among many college students and have been blamed for creating wide awake drunks that often harm themselves and others.
Nine students at Central Washington University were hospitalized last month after a party that included CABs. An 18-year-old girl in Florida died in August after consuming the drink and diet pills. Another Floridian accidentally shot himself after drinking at least three cans.
Although marketers insisted the drinks were no more dangerous than wine with dinner and coffee with dessert, Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, a professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University, says that ingesting both substances at the same time is much more potent than either alone. Her study, a Web-based survey of more than 4,000 college students from 10 universities, showed that those who consume both substances are at least two times as likely as those drinking alcohol alone to be hurt, to need medical attention, to take sexual advantage of another or to accept a ride with someone who was inebriated. These findings were reported earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Washington, D.C.
“There’s a particular interaction that goes on in the brain when they are consumed simultaneously,” O’Brien told the media prior to the FDA action. “The addition of the caffeine impairs the ability of the drinker to tell when they’re drunk. What is the level at which it becomes dangerous? We don’t know that, and until we can figure it out, the answer is that no level is safe.”
The FDA had been studying the issue for nearly a year prior to Wednesday’s announcement that it was issuing letters of warning.
While companies like Phusion Projects insist they want to help customers use their products responsibly, marketing strategies unquestionably point toward their efforts to attract youth.
The drinks already appeal to teens and college students for several reasons, not the least of which is their promise of rapid intoxication. Made with fruity flavors like raspberry and lemon-lime, they are cheaper than beer (about $2.50 per large can), and sold in brightly colored cans like energy drinks so sales clerks are often unaware of their alcoholic content.
A number of organizations across the nation that had expressed concern about the CABs applauded the FDA action and individual states that had already enacted bans.
“In the face of increasing reports of misuse and tragic consequences, many took responsible steps to protect the public. Our work, however, is not done,” said Dan Gwadosky, chairman of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association’s Board of Directors. “We must educate the public, especially our youth, to the dangerous practice of mixing alcohol and energy drinks and the dangers of over-consumption.”
The Rev. Creech said the only negative thing about the ban is that it is likely creating a run on the drinks as fans try to stock up before the cans are pulled from the shelves or replaced with non-caffeinated versions.
“As this happens, we urge convenience store clerks to be aware and vigilant in checking IDs,” he said.
Already Facebook and other social networking sites were abuzz Wednesday with warnings to “get it while you can.”