The End of Alcoholic Energy Drinks

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One of the first things you learn in high school health class is that it’s a bad idea to mix uppers and downers, but for some beer companies, it takes some government intervention to remind them of this fact.

Phusion Projects announced Tuesday that it is removing caffeine from its Four Loko alcoholic drinks largely in response to concerns from lawmakers and the public that this pairing is dangerous.

Four Loko, a 23-ounce drink that has been nicknamed “blackout in a can,” was linked to the death of one college girl this month after she crashed into a telephone poll on the way home from a party. And the month before this, a group of nine college students overdosed on the drink and were hospitalized.

But just because the company is pulling caffeine from its drinks, along with guarana and taurine, doesn’t mean it admits that the drink is dangerous.

“We have repeatedly contended – and still believe, as do many people throughout the country – that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe,” the company’s three co-founders said in a statement. “If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced.”

However, the Food and Drug Administration clearly disagrees with this assessment. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Tuesday that the FDA would soon notify manufacturers like Phusion Projects that caffeine is not safe in alcoholic drinks and should be banned. The FDA followed that up Wednesday by warning Phusion and three other manufacturers that caffeine is an "unsafe food additive" and alcoholic products that include it may need to be seized.

As for Phusion Projects, it seems likely that the company thought it would be better to preemptively eliminate caffeine from its products than to be publicly reprimanded for it.

Other companies have caved to similar pressure in the past. MillerCoors voluntarily removed caffeine from its Sparks drink at the beginning of 2009 and the year before that, Anheuser-Busch, now InBev, removed caffeine from its Tilt and Bud Extra brands.

Yet, the practice of mixing alcohol with caffeine may still be widespread, even if the FDA cracks down on these beverage companies. After all, many bars offer to serve Red Bull with alcohol, a popular combination. Should that practice be banned as well?

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