Less than a month after alcoholic energy drinks stirred up controversy for hospitalizing dozens of students who drank them, the New York State Liquor Authority has pressured the maker of Four Loko -- the top-selling caffeinated alcoholic drink -- to stop shipping its product to vendors there by the end of the week.
The agency also reached an agreement with the state's largest beer distributors to immediately stop placing orders for malt beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants. They will be given until Dec. 10 to clear their inventories of the potent blends, which have been linked to at least two deaths since August.
"New Yorkers deserve to know that the beverages they buy are safe for consumption," said Gov. David Paterson in a statement, indicating he would push for a permanent removal of alcoholic energy drinks from the market.
The deal with distributors was made after discussions between industry leaders and the State Liquor Authority failed to conclude that the drinks, colloquially referred to as "blackout in a can" and "liquid cocaine" for the effect they produce, are safe for consumption. Retailers will be given some additional time to sell off their existing stock.
New York's action comes on the heels of others states, Michigan and Washington, banning them outright. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to take action and announce how it plans to regulate the industry as soon as this week.
As part of the deal, Phusion Products, the company behind Four Loko, has agreed to fund alcohol awareness programs to educate licensees and consumers about the dangers of binge drinking.
A day after New York regulators announced the ban, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also renewed his call to the FDA to ban the controversial drinks. He first urged the agency to investigate the products last November in a letter signed by 17 other attorneys general; in his most recent appeal, Blumenthal said a year of "mounting and alarming evidence" that the drinks are not safe merits nothing short of a nationwide ban.
"Alcoholic energy beverages are a witch's brew of stimulants and alcohol, creating wide-awake, energized drunks who pose a serious threat to themselves and others," Blumenthal said in a statement.
The controversy surrounding the trendy drinks with names like Four Loko, Joose, Torque, and Liquid Charge stems mainly from the marketing behind them. Although they pack anywhere from 6% to 12% alcohol in gigantic 23.5-ounce cans -- the booze equivalent of five or six beers -- and as much caffeine as a cup of Starbucks coffee, they come in flavors like grape and watermelon and in flashy containers that look nearly identical to non-alcoholic energy drinks and iced tea. Critics have said the deceptively innocent presentation fools consumers into believing the products are safe, or at least not dangerous, and the caffeine masks the effects of the alcohol, creating a "drunk-awake state."
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked the FDA in July to ban the concoctions from the market, arguing that "manufacturers are trying to mislead legal-age adults while actively courting underage drinkers. This is dishonest, irresponsible, and wrong," he said in a statement.
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