State liquor board bans alcoholic energy drinks


by KING 5 News

Posted on November 9, 2010 at 8:54 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 10 at 6:26 PM

Should the state ban alcoholic energy drinks?

OLYMPIA, Wash.-- The Washington State Liquor Control Board voted to ban the sale of alcoholic energy drinks.

The ban goes into effect on Nov. 18.

"The Liquor Control Board has a duty to protect the safety of the people of Washington state," Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a press conference. "It has fulfilled that duty by banning these drinks."

"We're taking action to keep these drinks out of young peoples' hands and keep young people out of our emergency rooms," she said.

Gregoire said a strong caffeine-and-alcohol combination could encourage drinking too much by masking alcohol's regular depressant effects. She also said alcohol-based energy drinks -- sometimes fruit-flavored, often sold in brightly colored cans -- are too appealing to young drinkers.

"It's no different than the kind of appeal that Joe Camel had to our kids when it came to cigarettes," she said.

The vote comes after nine underage students at Central Washington University became dangerously ill after consuming a caffeinated malt beverage called Four Loko at a party in Roslyn on Oct. 8. Nine students went to the hospital and one ended up in the intensive care unit.

The blood alcohol levels of the students who were hospitalized ranged from 0.123 to 0.35. A blood alcohol content of 0.3 and above is considered potentially fatal.

CWU President James Guadino said at the press conference that the students say they don't know how many of alcoholic energy drinks they consumed.

"When I talk to students they will swear that they drank one of these and that's all they remember after that point and they ended up in the hospital on respirators," said CWU President, James Guadino.

A typical alcohol energy drink has almost 3-4 times the amount of alcohol you'd find in a can of beer and the caffeine amounts to four cups of coffee. One Four Loko, which contains 12 percent alcohol, is equivalent to four to five beers and several shots of espresso. The drink is commonly known as “blackout in a can" and is one of the most popular alcoholic energy drinks on the market.

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna commended the Washington Liquor Control Board for its decision.

"These drinks are heavily marketed to youth with fruity flavors to mask the high levels of alcohol," said McKenna. "This dangerous combination results in too many youth drinking way too much, way too fast - and waking up in local hospitals with alcohol poisoning. Known as 'blackout in a can,' these beverages present too many health risks to remain in the marketplace."

McKenna said he anticipates the Food and Drug Administration will rule on the issue of alcoholic energy drinks soon.

Jessica Stretch, 20, said the ban is a good idea because she has seen friends get sick from alcohol energy drinks.

“Just this past week we had an incident happen and a friend got sent to the ER,” said Stretch.

The South Puget Sound Community College student said she does not drink, but friends have told her Four Loko is deceivingly strong.

“It just tastes like an energy drink, so they add shots to that, add beers to that,” said Strong, “And it just escalates into something really bad.”

Devan Henderson, 17, thought the state went too far.

“Instead of banning it, I think they should educate people about exactly what it was, the alcohol content and how dangerous it was,” said Henderson.

The company that makes Four Loko issued the following statement:

We're disappointed by recent calls to ban our products. While we don't agree that caffeine and alcohol are unsafe, we do appreciate any state's concern for its citizens. We want to open a dialogue to discuss specific concerns and try to reach solutions.

No one is more upset than we are when our products are abused or used illegally, and we do everything in our power to prevent the sale of our products to anyone under the age of 21 and to educate consumers about how to enjoy them responsibly. When consumed responsibly, our products are just as safe as any other alcoholic beverage.

This conclusion was recently affirmed by way of a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) notification for our products we had prepared in response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's request for information about the safety of adding caffeine to alcohol. An independent panel of scientific and food safety experts unanimously concluded that adding caffeine to alcohol is safe. The FDA's scientists are currently evaluating the data and information we provided and are assessing whether any further regulation of caffeinated alcoholic beverages is necessary. Of course, we will share the results of this evaluation with all interested parties, once they are available, which we anticipate will occur in the coming months.

People have safely mixed and consumed alcohol and caffeine products for years; having coffee after a meal with wine, or consuming rum and cola, an Irish coffee, or a Red Bull and vodka are all popular practices. Four Loko has roughly the same alcohol content as some craft beers, wine, and far less alcohol by volume than hard liquor. A can of one of our products, Four Loko, has roughly the same amount of caffeine as a tall Starbucks coffee.

We are proud of the work we do to ensure our products are safe and used properly and only by adults of legal drinking age. However, curbing alcohol abuse will not be accomplished by singling out a lone product or beverage category. We are committed to working with all interested parties to address our shared concerns and to answer questions regarding the safety of the products.