Wednesday, November 17, 2010

FDA Issues Warning Over Alcoholic Caffeinated Beverages

The FDA stopped short of banning products like Four Loko, which are fruit flavored alcoholic energy drinks that include caffeine. However, it issued warnings.
The Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to four manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks on Wednesday, saying that it was unsafe to include caffeine in the beverages.

The popularity of the drinks has exploded over the last few months, and there have been numerous reports of young people falling ill after drinking them. A brand called Four Loko — a fruit-flavored malt beverage that has an alcohol content of 12 percent and as much caffeine as a cup of coffee — came under particular scrutiny after students who drank it this fall at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J., and Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., ended up in emergency rooms, some with high levels of alcohol poisoning.

On Tuesday, Phusion Projects, the Chicago company that makes Four Loko, said it would stop putting caffeine in the drink. The company’s founders said in a statement that while they still believed it was safe to blend caffeine and alcohol, they wanted to cooperate with regulators.

“We are taking this step after trying — unsuccessfully — to navigate a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels,” the statement said.

Several states, including Michigan and Washington, have banned the drinks on their own in recent weeks, and many more were considering similar action. Last weekend, New York’s largest beer distributors agreed to stop delivering caffeinated alcoholic beverages to retailers by Dec. 10.
It's easy enough to blame the company behind this particular product, but anyone can put together a strong beverage that contains the same ingredients. After all, any number of cocktails pack more alcoholic punch than Four Loko, and high caffeine products have long been available, like Jolt Cola.

It's real easy to scapegoat Four Loko, but it ignores the responsibility of the individual drinker and those who are selling these alcoholic beverages to underage persons. The two cases that the Times cites aren't exactly definitive:
In August, an 18-year-old in Palm Coast, Fla., died after drinking Four Loko in combination with diet pills. The following month, a 20-year-old in Tallahassee, Fla., started playing with a gun and fatally shot himself after drinking several cans of Four Loko over a number of hours.
So, did the beverage cause the death or did the diet pill? Did the person shoot themselves because they were suicidal or depressed or was there something about this particular beverage that was dangerous. Based on the information at hand - there's no evidence to support that. What we can say is that neither person would have been able to purchase the alcoholic beverage because they are under 21. That means that someone was able to purchase the beverages and the store that sold those beverages did not check for ID or were given fake ID.

Moreover, binge drinking remains a problem on college campuses around the country because of a widespread and pervasive issue with alcoholic consumption in the nation that goes back to the temperance movement days. Rather than preaching moderation from an early age, we get a ban that can be easily circumvented so that people who do want to drink underage do so in a culture that doesn't respect moderation. It leads to excess and binge drinking and sends people to the hospital.

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