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Senator: FDA to ban caffeinated alcohol drinks

By the CNN Wire Staff
Leading brands like Four Loko mix as much as three cups of coffee with three cans of beer.
Leading brands like Four Loko mix as much as three cups of coffee with three cans of beer.
  • Sen. Charles Schumer says FDA will ban caffeinated alcohol drinks
  • Critics say the drinks are unsafe and appeal to minors
  • New York, Washington, Utah, Michigan and Oklahoma already ban the drinks

(CNN) -- The Food and Drug Administration is preparing to ban caffeinated alcohol drinks, Sen. Charles Schumer said Tuesday. In response, one leading manufacturer of these drinks announced that it will remove caffiene and other ingredients from its product.

The FDA, which has been reviewing the drinks since last year, declined to comment on the report. Spokeswoman Siobhan Delancey said the matter was still under review.

But Schumer, in a statement issued to the media, said the FDA will rule that caffeine is an unsafe additive to alcoholic beverages, effectively banning them from the U.S. market.

"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," Schumer, D-New York, said in the statement.

Critics say such drinks -- leading brands include Four Loko and Joose -- mix as much as three cups of coffee with three cans of beer and are designed to appeal to younger consumers accustomed to consuming high-caffeine energy drinks.

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A 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko contains either 6 or 12 percent alcohol by volume, depending on state regulations.

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The combination of caffeine and alcohol -- which also is found in drinks like rum and cola -- allows drinkers to consume alcohol for a longer period of time without headaches, dry mouth or other unpleasant side effects, according to Kevin Clauson, an associate professor of pharmacy at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Schumer's office said a recent study found that young drinkers who combine alcohol and caffeine are more likely to be injured, sexually assaulted, drive while drinking and require medical attention than those who drink caffeinate-free drinks.

In the latest news, several Washington state college students became ill in October after drinking Four Loko.

Phusion Products, the manufacturer of Four Loko, announced Tuesday that it intends to reformulate its drinks to remove caffeine, guarana and taurine from them. From now on, there will only be noncaffeinated versions of Four Loko.

"We have repeatedly contended -- and still believe, as do many people throughout the country -- that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced," the company's co-founders said in a statement.

The company also noted that the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau had approved their products.

"We are taking this step after trying -- unsuccessfully -- to navigate a difficult and politically-charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels," the statement said.

Phusion Products said that over the last several months they wanted to talk with regulators and policymakers in hopes of coming up with standards regulating caffeinated alcoholic beverages.

"By taking this action today, we are again demonstrating leadership, cooperation and responsible corporate citizenship," the statement said.

If the FDA does move to ban the drinks, it would join New York, Washington, Utah, Michigan and Oklahoma in ejecting the products from store shelves.