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 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.