Alcoholic Energy Drink Maker To Remove Caffeine

The makers of Four Loko, a drink that combines alcohol with caffeine and other energy boosters, say they're changing their recipe. The federal government is poised to ban the combo, which has been linked to injuries in several states.

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The Food and Drug Administration said today that drinks which combine alcohol and caffeine are unsafe. And that decision amounts to an effective ban on drinks, such as Four Loko, which have caused controversy recently. Several states, cities and colleges have already banned the drinks. NPR's Tovia Smith has our story.

TOVIA SMITH: They call it witches brew and blackout in a can, mostly because the drink packs much more of a punch than you'd expect. David Vladeck is director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Mr. DAVID VLADECK (Director, Bureau of Consumer Protection): These are not your ordinary beers. They are fruit-flavored carbonated drinks sold in supersized containers and they have supersized alcohol content.

SMITH: The equivalent of 5 beers. The company that makes Four Loko says it will stop putting caffeine in its drink, but declined to comment today. United Brands that makes a product called Joose says it will also stop. But company president and CEO Michael Michail says the FDA is overreacting.

Mr. MICHAEL MICHAIL (CEO, United Brands): I think that there is rush to judgment and we've been lumped in with one maker - has inresponsible(ph) marketing. And the fact is we're not causing any problems. It's not even fair.

SMITH: But on campuses, many college students say they agree with the FDA that alcoholic energy drinks do result in more risky behavior, like drunk driving or sexual assaults.

Ms. ALI BURAK (Student, Boston College): It seems like every time someone wakes up in the morning and regrets the night before it's usually because they had Four Loko.

SMITH: Boston College junior Ali Burak says drinks like Four Loko should be banned. Tomas Nary, director of BC's Health Services, says the beverages have already landed at least one BC student in the emergency room.

Mr. THOMAS NARY (Director of Health Services, Boston College): Some people actually did note it was a, quote, "cheap drunk," but actually the people that have the most problem with this were the ones that weren't quite as savvy. Because it looks pretty harmless.

SMITH: Nary welcomes the FDA action, but worries that getting rid of the canned drinks won't stop kids from mixing up their own concoctions from scratch.

Mr. DAVID MCLAUGHLIN: My business might increase a little bit. Could be good news. So...

SMITH: That's David McLaughlin unloading a truck of Red Bull Energy Drinks at a convenience store at the edge of the BC campus.

Mr. MCLAUGHLIN: They're going to do what they do anyway. And they can mix it themselves.

SMITH: But McLaughlin adds that would probably be safer.

Mr. MCLAUGHLIN: At least they know what they're putting into it. And whatever they mix probably wouldn't be as strong as the Four Loko is.

SMITH: BC senior Willie Flad agrees. People will not stop drinking caffeine with their alcohol.

Mr. WILLIE FLAD (Student, Boston College): It's the most cheap and easy way to go about like getting drunk. And I see a lot of people drinking 5-Hour Energies while they're out drinking. And I think people want to have their cake and eat it too.

SMITH: Indeed, some students have been stocking up on drinks like Four Loko. And some are not happy with the crackdown.

Mr. MATTHEW LOCK (Students, Boston College): I don't understand why every time kids get into something parents feel the need to screw it up.

SMITH: That's BC junior Mathew Lock. He says invitations are already going out for various last hurrah kind of parties before prohibition takes effect.

Mr. LOCK: I mean I definitely think there will be some kind of funeral.

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Mr. LOCK: A funeral party.

SMITH: Boston College officials say they're just hoping it doesn't end with an actual funeral.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.�

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