Target: Alcohol-Caffeine Drinks

AGs seek labeling, bans

Published in CSP Daily News

NEW YORK -- State attorneys general and health-advocacy groups are urging the federal government to more closely regulate caffeinated alcoholic drinks, a small but fast-growing category popular among younger drinkers.

Proponents of tougher regulation are calling for everything from outright bans to warning labels stating that mixing caffeine and alcohol could carry health or safety risks, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. A primary concern of the groups is that caffeine and other stimulants may mask feelings of drunkenness, which could lead users [image-nocss] to act recklessly, such as driving while intoxicated.

The drinks, which are sold under names such as Joose, Four Loko and Liquid Charge, typically combine malt liquor, vodka or another alcoholic beverage with caffeine or other stimulants. Unit sales of Joose products more than tripled to 1.3 million cases in U.S. food, convenience and drug stores in the 12 months through mid-June from the year-earlier period, according to market-research firm Nielsen Co. Unit sales of Four Loko and sister brand Four Maxed jumped 2,680% over the past 12 months, from a small number of sales in the year-ago period, the newspaper reported.

States' chief legal officers have already taken a tough stance against premixed caffeinated alcoholic drinks, especially in regards to marketing that they allege often targets underage consumers. Last year, about a dozen attorneys general secured settlements with beer giants Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and MillerCoors LLC, which agreed to remove caffeine, guarana and other stimulants from drinks such as Sparks. But other companies have seized market share with similar products, including the makers of Joose and Four Loko, which are now under investigation by several attorneys general, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Critics of the products, which include scientists and consumer-advocacy groups, have called for tougher oversight from the Food and Drug Administration, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission, all of which regulate aspects of alcohol sales and marketing.

Last month, members of the National Association of Attorneys General's panel on youth access to alcohol said in a letter to the FTC that "a critical goal of our committee is to encourage and obtain direct federal involvement in the removal of these dangerous products." One of the authors, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, said federal regulators have been "essentially inert," according to the report.

United Brands Co., the maker of Joose, and Phusion Projects LLC, the maker of Four Loko, declined to comment to The Journal. But other makers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks defended their products. "Consumers have been mixing beverages which contain caffeine along with alcoholic beverages for many yearsthis is not a new trend," a spokeswoman for Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Vicious Ventures Inc. told the newspaper. Vicious Ventures makes Vicious Vodka, a caffeine-infused vodka sold in California. "We are not aware of any proven health risks related to mixing reasonable amounts of caffeine with alcohol."

Jeff Kanbar, founder of JETT Spirits LLC, which is based in California and makes JETT Vodka, says he discloses on the brand's website that 1.5 ounces of his beverageroughly a shotcontains about the same amount of caffeine as half a cup of coffee. "Whether you are drinking alcohol with caffeine or not, you need to keep an eye on your consumption and use your best judgment," he told the newspaper.

A spokesperson for treasury's alcohol bureau said it continues to closely monitor marketing practices of companies selling caffeinated alcoholic drinks to make sure they don't imply the drinks will have a "stimulating" or "energizing" effect. The FTC, too, is scrutinizing such marketing, said Janet Evans, an agency lawyer.