Caffeine-enhanced alcohol banned to mixed student response

One can of Four Loko is the same as drinking five cups of coffee and a six pack of beer, according to research by the FDA.

Graphic: Kenyon Shafer/Iowa State Daily

One can of Four Loko is the same as drinking five cups of coffee and a six pack of beer, according to research by the FDA.

Michael Craighton

Caffeinated alcoholic drinks such as Four Loko, Joose, Moonshot and Core will be off all store shelves in Iowa by Thursday, in accordance with a decision by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division and a warning issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many stores, such as Hy-Vee, have already pulled the drinks from their inventories.

The FDA issued a warning statement Nov. 17 to four companies to stop selling caffeinated malt alcoholic beverages. One of the companies, Phusion Projects LLC, is the maker of Four Loko. The FDA officially banned sales of the drinks Wednesday.

All four companies agreed to cease production of caffeine-enhanced alcoholic products and remove them nationwide from store shelves by Dec. 13.

The ban of caffeinated alcoholic beverages in Iowa has sparked strong reactions from ISU students. Many students feel that the ban will not be effective.

“You can make these kinds of drinks yourself,” said Amanda Marek, senior in marketing. “People will drink the same drinks anyway, just mixing caffeine and alcohol.”

Nicholas Moon, junior in finance, said he thinks the FDA is overstepping its boundaries by banning Four Loko and other drinks. “They shouldn’t be able to,” Moon said. “There are other things that are unhealthy that they haven’t tried to ban.”

Other students disagree. Brooke Barker, sophomore in pre-business, said she thinks that if the product is causing significant harm, then the FDA has the right to ban it.

The caffeine in the beverages is considered an unsafe food additive and is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, according to the warnings.

According to the Phusion Projects website, Four Loko comes in a 23.5-ounce can and has 12 percent alcohol content by volume — meaning that for every ounce of liquid in the beverage, 12 percent of it is alcohol. By comparison, a can of Keystone Light has an alcohol content by volume of 4.2 percent.

Phusion Projects also claims the drink contains no more caffeine than a tall Starbucks coffee, but many estimates put the actual content as high as 500 milligrams. In comparison, Monster energy drink contains about 160 milligrams of caffeine.

A single Four Loko is about the equivalent of a six pack of beer and five cups of coffee, according to the FDA’s measurements.

The controversy began to take the public spotlight in October when nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko, both on its own and mixed with other drinks. Since that incident, momentum began growing, and several states banned the drink, including Utah, Oklahoma, Michigan and New York. Many other states began to follow.

Phusion Projects released an open letter Nov. 16 in which the company responded to the FDA mandate to remove caffeine from Four Loko. In the letter, Phusion Projects stated that in the future, Four Loko will continue to be available, although it will be a non-caffeinated version of the popular beverage.