Chicago May Ban Caffeinated Alcoholic Drink

Safety of combination in question

By Elliott Beazley
|  Thursday, Nov 4, 2010  |  Updated 8:25 PM CDT
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MIAMI - OCTOBER 27: Cans of Four Loko are seen in the liquor department of a Kwik Stop store on October 27, 2010 in Miami, Florida. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing whether the drinks are safe for consumers after complaints that the fruit flavored malt beverage keeps consumers from realizing how intoxicated they are leading to possible alcohol poisoning. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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The future of alcoholic, caffeinated beverages in Chicago looks bleak after a number of alcohol-poisoning controversies have rocked college campuses around the nation.

Chicago Aldermen Ed Burke and Gene Schulter say drinks like Four-Loko, made by Chicago-based company Phusion Projects, are dangerous. The council is considering a ban on all drinks that pre-mix and package the combination, claiming the mixture of a stimulant (caffeine) and a depressant (alcohol) misconstrues how tipsy one is, causing them to drink more. The result: students black out and become alcohol-poisoned.

"Four-Loko is like a bottle of wine in a can," said a sales associate Binny's Beverage Depot. "We don't want that type of controversy in our store."

Multiple branches of Binny's Beverage depot in Chicago say they don't carry Four-Loko, but they do carry Sparks, a similar drink with less alcohol.

Following recent reports that students in New Jersey and Washington state got alcohol poisoning after consuming Four-Loko, the council has reason to be concerned as the Federal Food and Drug Administration does not regulate caffeinated alcoholic beverages, according to Phusion Projects.

The FDA is looking into the drink, however, and asked the company to submitted a study on the safety of the drink, a company spokesman said.

The company said it's disappointed by the call to ban the product in Chicago.

"We know curbing alcohol abuse will not be accomplished by singling out a lone product or beverage category," the company said in a statement.

Nonetheless, the media hype surrounding Four-Loko might actually be helping the company.

"People are coming to look for the product, young people usually," a sales associate of Foremost Liquors on North Milwaukee said.

Some stores that once sold Four-Loko discontinued the product because of recent headlines. A manager at Armanetti Beverage Mart on Lincoln Avenue said, "Last weekend we sold out of Four-Loko, but our distributor is discontinuing sale of the product."

According to their website, Phusion Projects claims "that combining caffeine and alcohol is safe – a practice that is by no means new or novel." But, the difference with Four-Loko is that the combination is pre-mixed, 12 percent alcohol, and $3, a cheap way for young adults to get a buzz. Or more.

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