A federal inquiry into the safety of caffeinated alcoholic beverages may end sales of the hybrid drinks unless manufacturers demonstrate the safety of their products.
In a Nov. 13 press release, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it had sent a letter to 30 manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages regarding the safety and legality of their products. Among the companies listed were United Brands Company, Inc., producer of Joose, and Phusion Projects LLC, makers of Four Loko.
The letter informed the companies that if it is determined that the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages is not labeled by the FDA as “Generally Recognized As Safe,” the agency could bring sanctions, including the removal of the product from stores.
The release adds there are no regulations permitting the addition of caffeine, at any level, into alcoholic beverages. The release noted that the FDA had only given approval for caffeine to be used as an ingredient in soft drinks at approved levels.
Large brewers, such as MillerCoors, agreed in December 2008 to remove caffeine from its popular drink Sparks. Anheuser-Busch also agreed to remove caffeine from its beverages Tilt and Bud Extra.
Steven Clarke, director of the Virginia Tech Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center, said the drinks were particularly popular among college-age drinkers.
“I do get a lot of students consuming these beverages,” Clarke said. “You don’t really see anybody else consuming these drinks.”
Local managers for 7-Eleven and Kroger, two chains that sell the beverages locally, were unable to comment about the products’ popularity for this story.
Clarke said that the inclusion of caffeine could mask the negative effects of consuming alcohol.
“One of the important cues your body gives when you’re drinking is reduced energy,” Clarke said. “Increasing those energy levels masks that effect. It gets rid of that natural gauge.”
Philip Bogenberger, a public relations specialist for the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control, said that the drinks create what he called a “wide-awake drunk.”
“Because you’re getting the caffeine you may not be realizing the level of alcohol you’re consuming,” Bogenberger said. “You may not show some of the symptoms of someone who consumes a beer or wine.”
A study from Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that students consuming energy drinks with alcohol were more likely to be injured, be involved in nonconsensual sex, or ride with a drunken driver.
Clarke noted that one 23.5 ounce can of the beverage Joose could contain as much alcohol as 4.3 standard servings of alcohol along with as much caffeine as two or three cups of coffee. Clarke said he would be in favor of the products being removed from the shelves.
“I think they’re dangerous,” Clarke said. “It’s irresponsible of the beverage industry to have these for sale.”