- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It may soon be the “last call” for “blackout in a can.”

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce soon the results of its investigation into the public safety of canned drinks with names including Four Loko, Joose and 3 A.M. Vodka, which have become popular with young adults.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Tuesday that the FDA will notify manufacturers that their products are unsafe, effectively banning them.

“Let these rulings serve as a warning to anyone who tried to peddle dangerous and toxic brews to our children. Do it and we will shut you down,” Mr. Schumer said.

FDA spokesman Mike Herndon said Tuesday that the FDA is “very concerned about this very important public health issue,” but he could not confirm specific actions.

A spokeswoman at the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday that the agency will speak about the marketing of these beverages after the FDA makes its announcement.

Caffeinated alcoholic beverages often are sold in party stores along with wine, beer and “energy” drinks. However, some of these products have alcohol content as high as 12 percent — about three times the strength of a typical beer — and the caffeine equivalent of more than two cups of coffee.

The caffeine means that even though the imbibers may be drunk, they still will feel alert. Since the beverages are packaged in amounts typical of beer and are often “chugged” in a similar way, they have been dubbed “blackout in a can.”

Numerous deaths and injuries have been attributed to these drinks, and four states - Michigan, Utah, Oklahoma and Washington - have banned them. New York authorities recently reached an agreement with the maker of Four Loko and beer distributors to cease selling the product in that state.

Last year, the FDA sent letters to 27 manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks to let them know the agency was reviewing the safety of their products. Media reports have suggested that the FDA could make an announcement about the beverages as soon as Wednesday.

Chicago-based Phusion Projects LLC, maker of Four Loko, Four and Four Maxed, recently wrote an open letter to regulators offering to join an effort to “create uniform, industry-wide standards for all liquor and malt-based caffeinated alcoholic beverages.”

“While we don’t agree with the notion that mixing caffeine and alcohol is inherently unsafe,” Phusion Projects officials said, “we do agree with the goal of keeping adults of legal age who choose to drink responsibly as safe and informed as possible.”

In San Diego, Michael Michail, chief executive and president of United Brands, maker of Joose, Max Vibe, Max Fury, Max Live and 3Sum, said his company was “not aware of a single incident of injury or harm associated with its products.”

“We are aware of the concerns expressed by various regulators and will ensure that all Joose products meet both state and national health and safety guidelines,” Mr. Michail said.

Others are hoping the FDA will act within its full authority, even if that means banning the drinks.

Combining high percentages of alcohol with a high percentage of caffeine is a potent mixture - “it’s like giving a kid a real jolt,” said Joseph A. Califano Jr., founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

“We take all kinds of actions to protect little children from dangerous toys. We certainly should be prepared to take action to protect big children from dangerous drinks, and this is a dangerous drink,” he said.

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