FDA demands Four Loko lose its buzz

by Staff

The popular drink sells for a mere $2.50 and combines caffeine and alcohol, which is harmful to people’s health. Copyright Michael Tiberi / Staff Photographer

The popular drink packs the equivalent of four beers and a tall cup of coffee

By Sarah Grieco, Managing Editor

It’s no secret college students are crazy for the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko. But starting Thursday, the popular beverage will no longer contain caffeine, because of a ban declared by the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA wrote a stern letter to four companies on Nov. 17, which stated the consumption of beverages containing alcohol and caffeine is associated with behavior that may lead to life-threatening situations. The companies were then told to remove the caffeinated ingredients from its beverages, or the FDA could take further action, which may include seizure of products.

The ban was initiated when several state attorney generals wrote a letter of concern, asking the FDA to consider prohibiting the caffeinated products. The prohibition came after a recently filed lawsuit against the makers of Four Loko, Phusion Projects LLC, in which the plaintiff claimed the drink assisted in the suicide of a 20-year-old Floridian. The beverage has also been linked with multiple binge drinking incidents among college students and a fatal car crash in Texas.

Four Loko has the equivalent of four beers and a tall cup of coffee, which is nearly 12 percent alcohol by volume and roughly 260 milligrams of caffeine.

“Alcohol is a nervous system depressant while caffeine is a nervous system stimulant,” Dr. Hala Madanat, a School of Public Health assistant professor at San Diego State, said. “Combining the two substances can mask the effect of alcohol as a depressant.”

Madanat also said those who drink caffeinated alcoholic beverages may become unable to assess his or her level of intoxication, which may lead to binge drinking or potential alcohol poisoning.

Flavors of Four Loko and Joose, such as lemonade, raspberry, orange and grape, also displayed a marketing preference for young drinkers.

A sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous, stated the reason he purchases Four Loko is not for the taste, but rather the price. The drink costs roughly $2.50 per can, which means it is relatively affordable for students strapped for cash.

“To get drunk for about $5 is pretty college friendly,” he said.

The inexpensive price, however, contributes to the danger of overdosing and is another reason the FDA has called for the ban.

Once the ban goes into effect, people will no longer be allowed to purchase a drink that contains both caffeine and alcohol.

Madanat maintained that policy is generally a highly effective public health intervention, but there is still trepidation regarding consumption.

“The concern in this situation is that the two substances are accessible separately,” she said. “Adolescents and young adults who choose to mix those two substances will continue to be able to do so. However, banning these beverages is an important step in creating awareness that combining the two substances is not recognized as being safe.”

Since the FDA wrote to the four companies, all have ceased making their beverages and are no longer distributing caffeinated versions to retail stores.