Washington state this week banned trendy and controversial energy drinks that contain alcohol, a week after Michigan took similar action.
The decision by the Washington State Liquor Control Board comes after nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko, one of the most popular types of those beverages, last month. Law enforcement officers reported the students had blood alcohol levels ranging from 0.12% to 0.35%, more than four times the legal limit. A blood alcohol content of 0.3% is considered potentially lethal.
"Quite simply, these drinks are trouble," said Gov. Chris Gregoire in a statement. "By taking [them] off the shelves, we are saying 'no' to irresponsible drinking." Gregoire noted she was particularly concerned that the beverages' marketing tends to target young, inexperienced drinkers more likely to consume them in "reckless" amounts.
The beverages typically come in loud, flashy containers that resemble cans of non-alcoholic energy drinks, and in flavors such as lemonade, grape and fruit punch. But their appearances are deceiving, because they can pack the alcoholic punch of five or six 12-ounce beers, and caffeine amounts roughly equivalent to a cup of Starbucks coffee. Caffeine masks the drowsy effects of alcohol and puts users in a state of "wide-awake drunk," which may impair a person's ability to judge his or her level of intoxication.
A University of Florida survey of 800 randomly selected, college-age bar patrons found that those who drank alcohol mixed with caffeine were four times more likely to say they wanted to drive home than people who drank alcohol alone.
The emergency rule goes into effect Nov. 18 and will last at least 120 days, during which time the board will seek to make the ban permanent. By contrast, Michigan has given vendors 30 days to phase out the drinks from their inventories, after which the ban will be permanent.
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