The Buzz Kill

Philip Rhie/Guardian
Philip Rhie/Guardian

After a hectic finals week, college students can turn from Red Bull and Rockstar to a weekend alternative: Energy drinks like Four and Joose are infused with up to 12-percent alcohol, so that reaching the 4 a.m. mark can be a breeze. However, the half-decade old product — a popular and toxic combination — may soon be banned.

The Food and Drug Administration requested evidence on Nov. 13 from all companies that produce alcopop energy drinks — which also include 3AM Vodka and Liquid Charge — that their products are unharmful to consumers.

The FDA has never deemed caffeine safe in any amount when mixed with alcoholic beverages. Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, any substance added to food is considered unsafe and unlawful until is has been approved by FDA regulation, and is subject to prior sanction before it can be stamped as Generally Recognized As Safe.

The FDA said in a press release that it was unaware of any existing GRAS under which the beverage would be deemed legal. If alcoholic energy-drink drink producers fail to provide evidence of either sanctions, the FDA will deem their beverages illegal and halt all sales.

However, a task force consisting of 18 attorney generals from states including California and New York — along with the San Francisco city attorney — are encouraging the FDA to inspect the combination further.

“There is a strong emerging consensus of scientific opinion that the combination of caffeine and alcohol … poses a serious public health risk,” task force members said in a letter to the FDA on Sept. 25.

Members also recognized that the drink’s stimulants — which often include taurine, ginsing and guarana in addition to caffeine — can reduce self-awareness of being drunk, which could lead to an increase in driving under the influence, sexual assault and other alcohol-related crimes.

“You do feel like you’re sober when you’ve been drinking energy drinks and alcohol — even when you’re drunk,” Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomore Linda Suh said.

According to the FDA statistics, U.S. college students tend to combine caffeine and alcohol 26 percent of the times that they choose to drink.

“There [are] always alcohol and energy drinks at parties,” Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomore Danielle Jenné said. “It’s ineffective to try to stop something that’s going to happen anyway. The government needs to mind its own business.”

Twenty-seven drink manufacturers — including United Brands Company, Inc. and the P.I.N.K. Spirits Company/Prohibition Beverage Inc. — have been given 30 days to comply with the FDA’s request. They must supply evidence that their products are previously sanctioned or GRAS — or they will be outlawed.

Suh said she is unsure a ban on alcoholic energy drinks would discourage college students from consuming a mix of alcohol and caffeine — even if they are not packaged and sold together.

“People mix alcohol and Red Bull at parties all the time,” Suh said. “A ban on alcoholic energy drinks won’t change that. It’s just a waste of time.”

Revelle College sophomore Nancy Carmona agreed that banning alcoholic energy drinks should not ease the fears of the FDA or the task force.

“Instead of completely banning the drinks, the government needs to spread awareness of the effects of mixing those two substances,” Carmona said. “That way, people can be responsible for their actions, since they’re going to be mixing the two anyway.”

The FDA expressed that if caffeinated alcohol drinks are still deemed unsafe within a month, manufacturers will most likely be forced to halt production.

Anheuser-Busch Co. and MillerCoors, the nation’s two largest brewers, halted the sale of alcoholic energy drinks last year due to the New York Attorney General’s concerns that the drink’s health effects were being misrepresented, and that it was being marketed to underage drinkers.

Readers can contact Sarah Smith at [email protected].

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