CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Federal regulators are poised to ban alcoholic energy drinks such as Four Loko in the face of health concerns, Sen. Chuck Schumer said today, calling the move a "nail in the coffin" for drink makers.
"The Food and Drug Administration will rule that caffeine is an unsafe food additive to alcoholic beverages, effectively making products such as Four Loko, Joose and others like them prohibited for sale in the United States," Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement posted on his website. "Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission plans to notify manufacturers that they are engaged in the potential illegal marketing of unsafe alcoholic drinks."
The FDA, which has been investigating the drinks for more than a year, did not respond to a request for comment this afternoon. An FTC spokeswoman said "for now we have no comment."
The expected federal action comes as several states have banned the drinks in the wake of highly publicized incidents in which college students have been hospitalized after drinking the fruity beverages, which contain alcohol contents of up to 12%. Bans are in place in Washington, Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma. In New York, the State Liquor Authority got distributors to agree to stop selling the drinks.
"This ruling should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks," Mr. Schumer said in the statement. "Parents should be able to rest a little easier knowing that soon their children won't have access to this deadly brew."
A federal ban would be a victory for big brewers such as MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch. The companies in 2008 voluntarily agreed to remove caffeine from fruit-flavored brands such as Tilt, Bud Extra and Sparks, only to see smaller companies fill the void. The category leader is now Chicago-based Phusion Projects, maker of Four Loko, whose sales jumped 435% to $132 million in the year ending Oct. 3, according to SymphonyIRI. The company did not return a call for comment today.
Tim Baggs, president-CEO of Charge Beverages, which makes an alcoholic-energy drink called Core, said he hopes the FDA gives drink makers at least a 60-day grace period to ease out of the market. "I just hope they don't shut out small businesses that are trying to transition and make the move," he said.
With the pressure mounting, his company has begun selling non-caffeinated versions of the drink. But for most of the drink makers, caffeine remains a major selling point.