Promotion of Alcohol-Energy Drinks Questioned

Late last year we wrote that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified about 30 manufacturers of <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/product_liability">caffeinated alcoholic beverages that it intended to look into the safety and legality of their products. Now, Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer is asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate how flavored, caffeinated alcoholic beverages are marketed, specifically those that appear to be geared to underage consumers, said The Associated Press (AP).

The senator, in his letter to FTC chairman, Jon Leibowitz, wrote that the colorful cans containing the controversial drinks are meant to confuse parents and police with labeling that looks like labeling on similar nonalcoholic drinks, wrote the AP. Citing drinks such as Joose and Four Loko, Senator Schumer pointed out that information on the alcohol content of about 12 percent are hidden in tiny print. The alcohol content in these drinks is, by the way, about double that found in beer, wrote the AP.

Joose is made by United Brands Co. of La Mesa, California. Its chief executive, Michael Mikhail, said the firm only markets Joose through beer distributors and claims, “We don’t condone nontraditional marketing. We position our product toward at least the age of 21 and older…. We do not target college kids. We don’t condone it,” quoted the AP.

Schumer disagrees saying that Four Loko and Joose are intended to look trendy and are designed with “flashy colors and funky designs,” meant for youthful consumers, said the AP, adding that the drinks are produced in grape and orange flavors and only cost about $2.50 for a 24-ounce can.

“It is my understanding that caffeine-infused, flavored malt beverages are becoming increasingly popular among teenagers,” Schumer wrote, quoted the AP. “The style and promotion of these products is extremely troubling. Frankly, it looks to me as if manufacturers are trying to mislead adults and business owners who sell these products, while at the same time actively courting underage drinkers. This type of marketing is, at minimum, grossly irresponsible,” added Schumer.

The drinks are not approved by the FDA, said the AP and as we have mentioned previously, Anheuser-Busch and Miller agreed to discontinue their popular caffeinated alcoholic beverages, Tilt, Bud Extra, and Sparks, and agreed to not produce any caffeinated alcoholic beverages in the future. Other, smaller firms continue to sell the drinks, even experiencing an upswing in sales, said the AP.

In last November’s notification, the FDA said it had not specifically approved adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages, wrote the AP. The agency also cited a Wake Forest University study in which it was revealed that students mixing caffeine and alcohol tend to be more likely to experience alcohol-related injuries versus students who drink alcoholic beverages without caffeine, reported the AP. Last year, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs said, “The increasing popularity of consumption of caffeinated alcoholic beverages by college students and reports of potential health and safety issues necessitates that we look seriously at the scientific evidence as soon as possible.”

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, a substance intentionally added to food, such as caffeine in alcoholic beverages, is deemed “unsafe” and is unlawful unless its particular use has been approved by FDA regulation, the substance is subject to a prior sanction, or the substance is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). The agency has not approved the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages; therefore, such beverages can be lawfully marketed only if their use is subject to a prior sanction or is GRAS. For a substance to be GRAS, there must be evidence of its safety at the levels used and a basis to conclude that this evidence is generally known and accepted by qualified experts.

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