The Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have taken the first steps to ban caffeinated alcohol drinks.
The FDA today sent letters to four companies warning them that the caffeine added to their malt alcoholic beverages is an "unsafe food additive" and that further action, including seizure of their products, is possible.
During the past several months, consumers in at least four states have been hospitalized following consumption of caffeinated alcohol, according to the FTC, including nine students at Central Washington University.
The companies have 15 days to inform the FDA what specific steps they’ll take to remedy the violation, or 30 days to provide evidence that the use of caffeine in their drinks is “generally recognized as safe.”
“Studies suggest that the combined ingestion of caffeine and alcohol may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations because caffeine counteracts some, but not all, of alcohol's adverse effects,” according to the FDA.
FDA’s action today follows a November 2009 request to manufacturers to provide information on the safety of adding caffeine to their products.
The FTC noted that the products contain as much alcohol as four regular beers, and warned the companies that their marketing “may constitute an unfair or deceptive act or practice in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.”
Phusion Products, represented by Sidley Austin’s Andrew Strenio Jr., yesterday agreed to remove caffeine as well as guarana and taurine from its Four Loko and Four Maxed alcohol beverages.
“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,” said co-presidents Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright and Jaisen Freeman in a written statement.
They also noted that the the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the product. But they said they are "demonstrating leadership, cooperation and responsible corporate citizenship," by agreeing to remove the caffeine.
United Brands Company, Inc., which makes Joose, said in a press release that, “We respect the decision of the FDA, will be reviewing the details of the new guidelines, and will be aligning new FDA rules with the demands of our loyal consumer base."
Charge Beverages Corp., which makes Core High Gravity HG Green, Core High Gravity HG Orange and Lemon Lime Core Spiked, also received the warning letters, as did New Century Brewing Co., which makes Moonshot 69.
Five states have already banned the drinks.