Alcohol/caffeine drink maker seeks uniform rules

Fri Nov 12, 2010 4:32pm EST

* Says wants to work with regulators on industry standards

* Wants to be accommodating, to avoid legal action

NEW YORK Nov 12 (Reuters) - The maker of Four Loko, a controversial drink mixing alcohol and caffeine, said on Friday it wants to work with regulators, who are increasingly moving to ban the product sometimes called "blackout in a can," to create uniform, industry-wide standards.

In what it called an open letter to state and federal regulators, Phusion Projects LLC said it welcomes the chance to work together to create standards governing drinks that combine alcohol and caffeine -- a mix that can have harmful effects.

Last month, nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after drinking quantities of Four Loko brand drinks and similar beverages off-campus.

Four Loko, a highly sugared, caffeinated malt liquor sold in colorful cans, is 12 percent alcohol. That means one 23.5-ounce can is comparable to drinking five or six beers.

Health experts say the stimulant caffeine masks the depressant effects of alcohol, allowing people to continue drinking long after they normally would have stopped.

"If mixing caffeine and alcohol is the most pressing concern, addressing it would be best accomplished by creating laws that apply to the entire caffeinated alcoholic beverage category -- not specific, individual products and not just beers or malt-based products, said the letter, signed by the Chicago-based company's three co-founders and managing directors.

"If product-specific bans remain the preferred course of action, we will protect our rights as a business to the fullest extent of the law," they said. "We sincerely want to avoid legal action. And we are committed to being as accommodating as we possibly can on this matter."

High-alcohol, high-caffeine drinks have been banned in states like Michigan and Washington and calls for bans have emerged in other states as well.

Brewing giants Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) and Miller Coors, the combined U.S. operations of Molson Coors Brewing Co (TAP.N) and SABMiller PLC (SAB.L), agreed to stop making drinks that mix alcohol and caffeine after pressure from various states that accused the companies of targeting underage drinkers. (Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Gary Hill)

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