“Four Loko Madness”: FDA Freaks Out Over Caffeinated Beverages... So College Students Rush to Buy Them

Did the FDA ever take a course in reverse psychology? Because if they meant for Four Loko's sales to spike in the wake of the caffeinated beverage controversy, it's working.

Today New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced that the FDA will likely ban all caffeinated alcoholic beverages, fresh off a four-state embargo on the popular energy booze Four Loko. “This ruling should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks,” said Schumer. “Parents should be able to rest a little easier knowing that soon their children won’t have access to this deadly brew.” Fans of the prohibition-era TV series Boardwalk Empire might recognize Schumer's language as something out of a temperance league speech–and several people have already compared the rhetoric to Reefer Madness-era hysteria. Accordingly, college students and others have been racing to their local liquor stores and bodegas to load up on the stuff–surely not the effect Schumer was going for. Meanwhile,

The initial concern over Four Loko emerged after a 21-year-old Maryland girl was killed in a car accident after consuming the beverage– a tragedy, to be sure. But instead of focusing on the fact that she was drinking and driving–which kills 17,000 people in the US every year–the narrative became about what she was drinking, opening the door for a nanny state. But the impending ban has a precedent:

While there is little known medical evidence that the drinks are less safe than other alcoholic drinks, public health advocates say the drinks can make people feel more alert and able to handle tasks like driving. A Wake Forest University study found that students who combine caffeine and alcohol are more likely to suffer alcohol-related injuries than those drinking alcohol without caffeine.

Last year the FDA notified more than two dozen manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages that it never had specifically approved the addition of caffeine to alcoholic drinks and began studying whether it was unsafe and should be outlawed. The agency noted the mix's growing popularity among college students and its potential health and safety issues.

The FDA said then it had not reached a conclusion about the drinks' safety but cited concerns from several state attorneys general who contended the drinks appealed to underage drinkers and encouraged reckless behavior.

FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey would not confirm any upcoming action Tuesday but said the agency recognizes "this very important public health issue" and will announce the results of its review when it is complete. The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates the marketing of the drinks, declined to comment.

As we wait for the official statement from the FDA, Four Loko has agreed to remove the caffeine from its beverages.

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at November 17, 2010, 6:51am

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