FDA to block sales of alcoholic drinks with caffeine

posted at 12:00 pm on November 18, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Alcohol has been legal to buy, sell, and consume in the US since the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933.  Caffeine has never been illegal in the US, and millions of people consume it in soft drinks, coffee, and tea every day.  But what happens when you put alcohol and caffeine together?  The manufacturers incur the wrath of the nanny state:

Federal agencies moved aggressively Wednesday to eliminate from the market the potent alcoholic “energy” drinks spiked with caffeine that have become wildly popular on college campuses in recent years.

In letters to four companies, the Food and Drug Administration said it had concluded that adding caffeine to alcohol created “adulterated” products that were unsafe and illegal. If the companies do not take action within 15 days, the FDA could begin seizing the products or seek a court order barring companies from continuing to sell the products.

Simultaneously, Treasury Department officials announced that, based on the FDA’s conclusion, the companies would be told that the products had been mislabeled and were, therefore, illegal to be shipped. And the Federal Trade Commission informed the same four firms that marketing their seven products risked violating federal law.

The drinks, sometimes called a “blackout in a can,” contain high levels of alcohol and caffeine. The mixture creates a state of “wide-awake drunk” that makes it difficult for people to realize how intoxicated they are and enables them to consume far more alcohol than they otherwise would without passing out, officials said. That puts them at increased risk for alcohol poisoning, engaging in risky behavior such as driving drunk, and committing or being the victims of sexual assaults, they said. Consuming one can of Four Loko – the most popular product – has been compared to drinking five cans of beer and a cup of coffee.

The latest hysteria-in-a-beer-can comes from stories of college students binging on Four Loko and having to get treated for alcohol poisoning.  That is news — except for the fact that college students occasionally binge on non-caffeinated alcohol and do die of alcohol poisoning every year. Under this reasoning, we should repeal that 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition, too. (Of course, under that reasoning, we should also legalize marijuana since no one ever died from acute poisoning from overuse of it, but that’s a different nanny-state topic.)

The product is supposed to be deceptively potent, according to this story, because one can has the alcoholic content of five cans of beer. That’s actually an exaggeration; Four Loko has about three times the alcohol of beer at worst, ranging from 6-12% alcohol by volume (ABV).  Beer averages somewhere between 4-6% ABV.  Know what else has the alcoholic content of five cans of beer?  Just about every distilled liquor one can find.    Whiskey, on the other hand, goes between 40-55%.  Bacardi 151 is 75% ABV, as “proof” is expressed as twice the ABV.  Everclear, which is tremendously popular on college campuses, runs to about 95% ABV.  An Irish coffee with two shots of whiskey would be at least as potent as a Four Loko, and yet we don’t see the FDA, FTC, and the BATF cracking down on restaurants who supply that wicked drink.

Note that the federal government isn’t giving producers guidance on compliance with some esoteric labeling guideline here.  The Obama administration has pulled out every weapon it has to get products like Four Loko out of reach of the benighted consumers that supposedly can handle alcohol and caffeine separately but become unwitting pawns when they’re magically combined.  They are targeting a beverage that, when consumed responsibly, isn’t dangerous at all, and when consumed irresponsibly is just as dangerous as other drinks that the FTC and the FDA let pass.    The real reason the nanny-staters have targeted this class of beverages is because it combines two substances that nanny-staters don’t like in a new and novel form that appeals to consumers, which they cannot allow to stand.

I’m no fan of the concept of Four Loko; it sounds like a gimmicky, lousy product to me, and I rarely drink alcohol these days anyway (or much caffeine either, for that matter).  But unless it’s unsafe to consume in any amount, it’s not the business of the FDA and FTC and the federal government in general to dictate whether I or anyone else can access the product.


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In a related story in the barracks we Marines made “Out to Lunch Punch” with Everclear and Hawaiian Punch, mmmmmmmmm.

Alden Pyle on November 18, 2010 at 12:36 PM

My husband’s a former Jarhead. I’ll ask him about that.

annoyinglittletwerp on November 18, 2010 at 1:18 PM

I am going to have a alcoholic/caffeine beverage tonight and I am going to drink it under an incandescent lightbulb.
Living on the edge!

Electrongod on November 18, 2010 at 12:36 PM
MY GAWD man do you ever live a debouched life!!
*wink*

annoyinglittletwerp on November 18, 2010 at 1:20 PM

For their next trick, the Feds will prevent bars from selling coffee, because somebody might mix it with an alcoholic drink!

Psst–lots of mouthwash, regularly sold in grocery and drug stores, contains alcohol. What happens if somebody mixes in instant coffee or tea–they might get wide-awake drunk with minty mouth! OMG…gotta stop that!

We all live in a tea-bagged Listerine!

State governments are within their expressly enumerated constitutional powers to ban any (or all) alcoholic beverages, as well as to dictate when, where, and how they may be made available. All under the 21st Amendment. It’s been that way since the 1930s.

acasilaco on November 18, 2010 at 1:02 PM

So, a state can require a seller to have a liquor license to sell Four Lokos. Problem solved.

In CT, grocery stores are allowed to sell beer, but only before 9 PM and not on Sundays. So you put the Four Lokos in the beer section, and lock it up after 9 PM.

Steve Z on November 18, 2010 at 1:21 PM

My husband used to like this stuff and drank it for awhile. He got me to try one of the lemonade flavored ones and it tasted good, but if you drink just one can (over ice, a few glasses of it over a few hours) it will mess you up. It’s funny because I apparently cooked an awesome dinner, bathed the dogs, cleaned the house and did laundry and I didn’t remember a thing!

It should NOT be banned.

Key West Reader on November 18, 2010 at 1:38 PM

It’s funny because I apparently cooked an awesome dinner, bathed the dogs, cleaned the house and did laundry and I didn’t remember a thing!

Key West Reader on November 18, 2010 at 1:38 PM

Heehee, careful the next time he offers you one. ;)

Dark-Star on November 18, 2010 at 1:42 PM

I am SO happy all of our urgent issues, issues that effect the very viability of the nation, have been addressed and fixed.

These people are so out of control it’s not even funny.

It’s times like these that make me believe we need something stronger than elections to cure what ails us. I keep going back to the Thomas Jefferson quote about refreshing the Tree of Liberty.

gary4205 on November 18, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Espresso and Grappa… mmmmmm… Grappa….

I’m getting thirsty now…

ajacksonian on November 18, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Apparently there are many here that do not respect the decisions that are made for the good of themselves and the Motherland.

cntrlfrk on November 18, 2010 at 2:24 PM

No way am I gonna take this socialism without drink. And I’ll mix it or not as I please.

Even Russia can’t keep vodka from Russians. They like it neat!

Caststeel on November 18, 2010 at 2:32 PM

Allen’s Coffee Brandy.

maineconservative on November 18, 2010 at 2:43 PM

Over on Patterico, it’s been pointed out that the 21st Amendment (which repealed Prohibition) particularly limits the Federal Governments power to regulate alcohol, making the States uniquely empower to regulate alcohol.

Now, if the Feds wanted to do something about the way Loko is advertised, that might be within their purview.

LarryD on November 18, 2010 at 2:43 PM

Espresso and Grappa… mmmmmm… Grappa….

I’m getting thirsty now…

Irish coffee….Mexican coffee…. oh look, more coffee cocktails And yet more.

Are they going to raid bars next?

YehuditTX on November 18, 2010 at 3:08 PM

Irish coffee….Mexican coffee…. oh look, more coffee cocktails And yet more.

YehuditTX on November 18, 2010 at 3:08 PM

Hate to be a pita, but this (and similar) references are to putting alcohol into a caffeinated beverage, which is NOT the equivalent of putting caffeine into an alcoholic beverage. The former results in a diluted alcohol content/volume, while the latter allows a more concentrated alcoholic beverage to be masked by the affects of the caffeine.

FLKraKa on November 18, 2010 at 3:17 PM

Hate to be a pita, but this (and similar) references are to putting alcohol into a caffeinated beverage, which is NOT the equivalent of putting caffeine into an alcoholic beverage. The former results in a diluted alcohol content/volume, while the latter allows a more concentrated alcoholic beverage to be masked by the affects of the caffeine.

FLKraKa on November 18, 2010 at 3:17 PM

Ah…Clintonian logic at work here:

“I wasn’t having sex with her, she was having sex with me”

“Alcohol into caffeinated liquid bad, caffeine into alcohol good”

Makes sense. On Planet Bizarro.

BobMbx on November 18, 2010 at 3:56 PM

Next on the hit list…Hot Totties!

DrAllecon on November 18, 2010 at 12:10 PM
Now, what does those bouncy, lovely fun bags have to do with alcoholic/caffeine drink anyway ?? I mean, why would they be banned next ??

Jerome Horwitz on November 18, 2010 at 12:18 PM

You can imagine how many times I proofread my comment before hitting submit. ;)

Anyway, a nice Mudslide sounds good right about now.

DrAllecon on November 18, 2010 at 4:05 PM

Since this is clearly a social issue, aren’t Conservatives supposed to keep quiet, and just let it go? I mean, there was even a poll here about it. We have more important things to focus on. Right? RIGHT??

xblade on November 18, 2010 at 4:15 PM

“Alcohol into caffeinated liquid bad, caffeine into alcohol good”
BobMbx on November 18, 2010 at 3:56 PM

Wow, I was making a chemical comparison, in which btw, I never made a qualifying statement of good vs bad. But, if one were to do so, w/regard to Four Loko being the alcohol w/caffeine added, that would be the bad one vs coffee drinks w/alcohol added being the good one, comparatively.

The exact opposite of what you said. But thanks for trying ;)

FLKraKa on November 18, 2010 at 4:17 PM

Who’s up for some jagerbombs?

MadisonConservative on November 18, 2010 at 12:16 PM

I had the best time I never remembered last time…

Random Numbers (Brian Epps) on November 18, 2010 at 4:51 PM

At least in the Prohibition, no one pretended the government could ban any drinks without a Constitutional Amendment. All it takes now is the FDA deciding they don’t like it.

Tell me again about how the social conservatives are trying to regulate every part of our lives!!!

didymus on November 18, 2010 at 4:54 PM

The product is supposed to be deceptively potent, according to this story, because one can has the alcoholic content of five cans of beer. That’s actually an exaggeration; Four Loko has about three times the alcohol of beer at worst, ranging from 6-12% alcohol by volume (ABV). Beer averages somewhere between 4-6% ABV. Know what else has the alcoholic content of five cans of beer? Just about every distilled liquor one can find. Whiskey, on the other hand, goes between 40-55%. Bacardi 151 is 75% ABV, as “proof” is expressed as twice the ABV. Everclear, which is tremendously popular on college campuses, runs to about 95% ABV. An Irish coffee with two shots of whiskey would be at least as potent as a Four Loko, and yet we don’t see the FDA, FTC, and the BATF cracking down on restaurants who supply that wicked drink.

Ed, you are going by ABV alone. One can of Four Loko is about 24oz your average beer is between 12-16oz

clement on November 18, 2010 at 5:41 PM

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