The makers of Four Loko -- caffeinated malt liquor -- are bristling over the backlash created when nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized with extremely high blood-alcohol levels after drinking the product. The company claims the students misused the product.
It's hard to imagine the intent of this product is anything but getting rip-roaring drunk. Four Loko comes in a 23.5 ounce can with a 12 percent alcohol level. Drinking one of the cans is comparable to downing a six pack of beer. And the caffeine in the drink suspends the effects of the alcohol, which essentially allows the body to consume more alcohol than it can usually tolerate.
This is why the state Legislature last year attempted to ban caffeinated malt liquor at the request of the Liquor Control Board. The proposal died in the Senate rules committee.
Perhaps now it's time to ban drinks that mix alcohol and caffeine. It's clearly a dangerous combination.
But it would make more sense to address the issue at the federal level rather than imposing bans state-by-state bans.
And this is the approach taken by Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna. In the wake of the incident involving Central students, McKenna fired off a letter to the federal Food and Drug Administration asking it to ban the products.
"It's time to bring an end to the sale of alcoholic energy drinks," McKenna said. "They're marketed to kids by using fruit flavors that mask the taste of alcohol, and they have such high levels of stimulants that people have no idea how inebriated they really are."
McKenna went on to say that one of the CWU students was put on a respirator and nearly died.
McKenna is not alone in requesting and FDA ban. Twenty-five other attorneys general have written to the FDA on the matter. The number of people, generally young people, hospitalized after using caffeinated malt liquor is on the rise.
Gov. Chris Gregoire also favors a ban.
"I am concerned about the rapid market growth of pre-mixed alcohol energy drinks and their popularity with young people," she said. "... Consensus among the medical community is growing: Combining alcohol with energy drinks is a dangerous mix."
Even if the FDA does move to ban the these products, the problem won't go away. Non-alcoholic caffeinated energy drinks are sold everywhere. Those looking to get really hammered are going to mix them with alcohol.
An education campaign is needed to make it clear that mixing alcohol and caffeine is very dangerous -- even lethal.
But given how dangerous these products are, it just makes sense for the FDA to do its job, ban the products and protect the public.
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