The explosive popularity of alcoholic energy drinks laced with caffeine, guarana and other body-tricking stimulants, combined with a series of incidents involving young consumers who suffered serious -- some nearly fatal -- health effects after drinking them, has led Michigan to issue a statewide ban on the controversial drinks.
The state's Liquor Control Commission said it banned the products due to misleading packaging that is designed to appeal to teenagers and because of the conflicting mix of chemical ingredients that can encourage excessive consumption. The ban covers 55 drinks from four manufacturers, which will have 30 days to phase out their products from the market.
"Alcohol has been recognized as the number one drug problem among youth, and the popularity of alcohol energy drinks is increasing at an alarming rate among college students and underage drinkers," Nida Samona, the commission's chairwoman, said in a statement.
Four Loko, the most frequently cited "alcopop," as caffeinated alcoholic energy drinks are also known, was blamed last month for the hospitalization of nine Central Washington University students and 55 others at Ramapo College in New Jersey. The company behind it, Phusion Projects, has defended itself vigorously in the media and via statements on its website, claiming that its product should not be viewed as an energy drink but rather as an alcoholic one, and that the cans it comes in feature seven different warnings.
"Those warnings are just window-dressing. They don't stop these drinks from getting in the hands of young, sometimes foolish people," said David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Like typical alcohol energy drinks, Four Loko has 12% alcohol content that is comparable to five or six 12-ounce beers, and comes in loud, flashy 24-ounce containers in innocent-sounding flavors such as citrus, grape, fruit punch, and watermelon. The name "Four" alludes to the four main ingredients: alcohol, caffeine, taurine and guarana. Other drinks enmeshed in the controversy include Joose, Torque, and Liquid Charge. Drugstore and convenience store clerks routinely stock such beverages next to ordinary energy drinks, iced tea, and soda.
"One can, one serving, is enough to get you intoxicated," Samona said, adding that the low price point -- $2 to $5 per can -- make the masked booze easily affordable to minors.
Michigan announces statewide ban on alcoholic energy drinks