FDA: "Blackout in a Can" Alcoholic Energy Drinks Are Off the Menu

By Andrew Moseman | November 18, 2010 2:33 pm

mambajooseIf you like caffeine with your booze, you might soon have to revert to chugging coffee alongside your alcoholic drink of choice. The Food and Drug Administration, after drawn-out deliberation, has ruled that caffeine-and-alcohol concoctions like Joose, Core, and Four Loko violate the law, and informed the makers that they have two weeks to respond with their plans to change the products.

A typical alcoholic energy drink is 24 ounces (0.7 liters) and has a 12 percent alcohol content—compared with a 12-ounce (0.35-liter) can of beer, which normally has 4 to 5 percent—plus the caffeine equivalent of five cups of coffee. [Scientific American]

Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko says it intends to remove the caffeine, as well as guarana and taurine, to bring the drink into compliance with the FDA. United Brands, which markets Joose, says the same. Despite FDA’s decision, Phusion’s leaders maintain that the alcohol-caffeine combo is not unsafe. (These companies are probably not wild about their products’ common nickname: “blackout in a can” drinks.)

But for some public health experts, there are specific negative consequences for putting alcohol and caffeine together:

The mixture creates a state of “wide-awake drunk” that makes it difficult for people to realize how intoxicated they are and enables them to consume far more alcohol than they otherwise would without passing out…. That puts them at increased risk for alcohol poisoning, engaging in risky behavior such as driving drunk, and committing or being the victims of sexual assaults. [Washington Post]

The decision was a year in coming; it had been simmering since high-profile accidents involving these drinks took place in 2009.

The FDA began its review in November 2009, after complaints from officials in several states. The controversy exploded in October, when nine underage students at Central Washington University were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko, both on its own and mixed with other drinks, police reported. [CNN]

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Image: flickr / theimpulsivebuy

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • blue

    Lord, what nonsense. Hyperbolic scaremongering. Let’s ban Irish Coffee, Rum & Coke, and Vodka Red Bulls while we’re at it…

  • Robert E

    Irish Coffee was one of the first things I thought of. It would be interesting to see the text of the FDA’s decision.

  • Yeah…

    Yeah… The thing about Rum and Coke or Irish coffee is that those are within reason.. these drinks are like five coffee’s and a double dose of Irish.. I mean yeah there ARE Jagerbombs and things like that but this is taking what three or four jagerbombs would do to someone in ONE can.

    And plus, they don’t advertise Irish Coffees or Vodka Red Bulls in convienience stores… the FDA can’t put a limit on what you mix together while at home or in some other environment.. so as for scaremongering, I’m not buying that. It’s a legitimate concern.

  • Brian Too

    The thing is, these drinks are routinely marketed to young adults and minors. Just take a look at the typical meta-message: dangerous, edgy, fun, party, for adults only (wink!).

    That’s why I don’t entirely buy the idea that the makers don’t care for the reputation of “blackout in a can”. They like that association just fine, so long as the regulators don’t notice.

  • http://kevinlamping.com Kevin

    Why is it the government’s job to be our baby-sitter? So what if they target ads? So does every other good company out there. Are you saying teenagers only do dumb things because of targeted ads? And why treat the entire populace like little kids who don’t know any better.

    This is a freedom issue, not a health issue. Alcohol does terrible things to your body, with or without caffeine. Do you suggest we ban it as well? Why not ban happy meal toys? Oh wait, that’s already happened.

    I never plan on drinking one of these products, but that’s my choice. Stop acting like we can’t take care of ourselves. Obama talked about hope in the American people, but this is the exact opposite. If you don’t believe people can take care of themselves, then you’re anything but hopeful.

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    ” fun, party, for adults only (wink!).” – All booze is marketed like that. Driving a car fast and loose is shown to be dangerous and edgy on TV, but all they say is “professional driver, do not attempt.” If anything, advertisements for these things should follow suit: “Paid actors, do not actually drink this crap.” 😉

    9.9% of 24 oz = 2.376oz, the amount of alcohol in the can here. 2 oz of Jaeger at 35% = .7, so just over 3 Jaegerbombs. Which include a can of Redbull, at 80mg caffeine. Approximately 2/3rds a average cup of coffee’s worth (unless your bar skimps. tip more next time). Assuming these drinks really have 5 cups of coffee worth as claimed by the article, that’s about 600 mg (5x120mg per coffee. The LD50 of caffeine is 192mg/kg, or say 12.218 grams for a 140 lb person, for the curious.) So you’d have to do 3 or 4 jaeger shots and drink another energy drink.. Though I personally think 600 mg may be the extreme end of the scale and the drinks likely follow a gaussian distribution, however I don’t care enough to do the actual research.

    “The FDA began its review in November 2009, after complaints from officials in several states. The controversy exploded in October, when nine underage students at Central Washington University were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko, both on its own and mixed with other drinks, police reported.”

    The kind of statistics are inherently biased without a comparison. How many underage students get hospitalized from drinking non-energy alcoholic drinks each year? We’re meant to assume this is aberrant behavior, but in years past there have been media scares about frat pledges doing the same thing at the behest of their possible future brothers, until the peer pressure environment that incubated such processes was cracked down on.

    People rarely get taught how to drink booze and learn their limits responsibly. We’re expected to learn it on our own, while intoxicated. The younger your brain is, the less higher reasoning grey matter you own. The frontal lobe doesn’t finish up until about 24. This does not seem like a great recipe.

  • Victor

    Targeting kids. What a load of BS. Today, 12 year olds are playing pharmacist making concoctions made up of Oxycodone and Adderall. I suppose Oxies are marketed to kids too. It has nothing to do with the fact that teenagers and young adults, by their nature, are on a quest to experiment with ways to alter the way their brains work. These Energy-Alcohol drinks didn’t start a trend, they were the RESULT of a trend that was started by kids who’d chug Red Bulls and Steel Reserves so they’d get good and drunk for a good while. Banning these drinks does nothing more than serve as a kneejerk gesture to uptight parents who don’t want to admit they raised children without educating them on how not to be stupid when they’re on their own. Don’t worry mom and dad, the gumment will protect your children from your inadequecies as parents. That’s what the governments for, after all! Jeez…

    What a country we’ve become. We don’t even need to Congress to act anymore. We just accept the FDA coming in and ending companies and jobs because said company married legal ingredients and distribute them to companies who are required, by law, to sell to adults only. Yeah, a few dumb kids got sick and there’s the nanny to step in and protect us all. I’m seriously waiting for FDA thugs to show up at county fairs across America, protecting the sheep from things like fried Oreos ands and super-hot hot sauces.

  • nparikh

    What if we weigh the risks and benefits.

    By banning the product the FDA is restricting the right to consume legal food related items and is another measure of government control. A popular product which is not abused by the majority of its consumers is being banned which causes the loss of revenue and jobs.

    On the other hand the product is not all that different from the many drinks made by combining energy beverages like red bull with alcohol so nothing really unique is being lost. These products haven’t even been out that long and already there has been a disproportionate number of deaths and hospitalizations compared with other drinks commonly available at parties.

    Ideally, people should take responsibility for their own health and safety without government restrictions. Unfortunately, the demographic most at risk is also typically in the least responsible period of their lives. There is no doubt that additional lives will be saved from this ban. Is what we are losing more valuable compared to that?

  • Brian Too

    Say what you like about responsibility. The point is that many teenagers just aren’t responsible and that’s reality. Some have good parents and some bad.

    No, Oxycodone isn’t being marketed at kids for recreational use. These drinks are. Go down to any skateboard park, go to the XTreme games, go to the Red Bull air races. You’re going to see scads of kids and energy drinks everywhere. Open your eyes.

    I just finished watching a show about how some teens are vulnerable to heart failure due to energy drinks with no alcohol at all. You tell a grieving mom how her son died due to ‘lack of responsibility’. Targeting marketing of alcoholic energy drinks to teenagers is like lighting a match next to explosives.

    Are you the vanguard for freedom? Really?

  • Robert Squirrel

    What makes these drinks vastly different from an Irish Coffee is that coffee generally needs to be prepared — it’s much more difficult to chain one after another. Whereas the irresponsible and illiterate have been consuming energy drinks in contraindicated quantities for years — many of the more “extreme” drinks are detrimental in quantities of more than one a day — so adding alcohol to the mix is just unacceptably dangerous.

    Try drinking 15 coffees and 3 beers in one sitting; it’s a LOT harder to do than just knocking back 3 cans of “energy drink”. It doesn’t need to be regulated because it regulates itself. And if you drank the equivalent in Rum & Cokes… you’d be drinking something like 75 cans of coke and 15 shots of rum, which again is kind of difficult to pull off in a short period of time. Turning this into a question of “if they take this, what will they take next?” is disingenuous.

  • Me myself and your mom

    Drink a few and you will know why they aren’t good.

    Lines need to be drawn for the stupid people. I’m one of those stupid people and so are my friends. They sure are damn tasty, kinda makes me want to get one right now.

  • http://steadserver.com/blogs/viewstory/1061 tony

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