Sweetened High-Alcohol Drinks Still Dangerous, Even Without Caffeine

Three federal agencies — including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) — recently acted in concert to halt the sale and distribution of caffeinated alcoholic drinks such as Four Loko and Joose. Agency officials made their decisions based on research into the effects of combining caffeine and alcohol, and several recent incidents linked to the beverages where individuals (mostly young people) have been hospitalized or killed.

In response, David L. Rosenbloom, who directs Join Together, published an editorial in The New York Times arguing that caffeine isn’t the only problem with sweetened high-alcohol drinks. Rosenbloom pointed out three looming concerns:

  1. They’re big. Alcoholic energy drinks are sold in large containers. A typical 23.5-ounce can, Rosenbloom wrote, “delivers the alcohol contained in four or five regular 12-ounce cans of beer.”
  2. They’re flavored with sweeteners. The sweet flavor “encourages rapid ’chugging’” of the drinks — a “common cause of alcohol poisoning.”
  3. They don’t cost much. If you’re a teen or college kid these drinks make a “cheap drunk” affordable.

Decaffeinated variations of the drinks still pose a risk to public health. Drink-makers, and those who market and sell them, should voluntarily take them off the shelves, Rosenbloom said. Barring that, federal and state agencies overseeing the alcohol industry should pull them off the market altogether.

What’s your take? Have government officials done enough, or are the drinks — even without caffeine — still “blackout in a can”?

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