Will the FDA Rule Against Alcoholic Energy Drinks?
For many, alcohol and caffeine go together like peanut butter and jelly. But a recent FDA investigation into alcoholic energy drinks could make some producers change their minds about the combination.
Via the New York Times:
With new reports of young people falling ill or dying after drinking the potent blends of alcohol and caffeine, state and federal regulators have been pressured to address the matter. Several states have moved to ban the drinks on their own, and this weekend New York’s largest beer distributors agreed to stop delivering caffeinated alcoholic beverages to retailers by Dec. 10. Some state officials, meanwhile, have criticized the F.D.A. for not completing its review sooner.
“To be very blunt, there’s just no excuse for the delay in applying standards that clearly should bar this kind of witch’s brew,” said Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who as the state’s attorney general has led a campaign against the drinks.
At issue for the F.D.A. is whether adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages is “generally regarded as safe,” an agency designation that requires accepted scientific evidence.
The ruling would likely require warning letters to be sent to companies telling them their products are unsafe.
At the center of the investigation is whether caffeine masks the effects of alcohol, making people more likely both to drink more as well as engage in riskier behaviors while doing so under the assumption that they aren’t inebriated.
“There’s a particular interaction that goes on in the brain when they are consumed simultaneously,” [Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, a professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University] said. “The addition of the caffeine impairs the ability of the drinker to tell when they’re drunk. What is the level at which it becomes dangerous? We don’t know that, and until we can figure it out, the answer is that no level is safe.”
The question of safety has arisen after the recent deaths of multiple unrelated young adults that are being blamed on a caffinated alcoholic beverage called Four Loko. But others note that caffeine and alcohol have been ingested together for decades without anyone writing warning letters to bars about the matter.
Researchers are concerned that caffeine counterbalances some of the effects of alcohol and may lead drinkers to believer they are less drunk then they are. That’s a valid point, yet the mixing of the two substances isn’t going away any time soon. While the pre-made mixtures will apparently now be banned, it’s unlikely Americans will stop drinking these find mixtures of caffeine and booze:
- Rum and Coke
- Vodka and Redbull
- Irish Coffee
- Espresso martinis
- Shots followed by a Five Hour Energy chaser
- Cafecito and Cisco
In fact, Americans so love combining alcohol and caffeine that is was only a matter of time until our capitalist system spurned out pre-mixed drinks featuring both substances. This is how the market of innovation works: find a demand and fill it.
Maybe Four Loko was just too great of a capitalist success for America. It delivered almost too much bang for its buck: the equivalent of about three or four beers and a Red Bull all for under $3.
The FDA is expected to rule on this at some point today.