U.S. to ban alcohol drinks with caffeine - lawmaker

Tue Nov 16, 2010 3:26pm EST

* Sen. Schumer says FDA, FTC to act on drinks

* Action targets popular drinks such as Four Loko

* FDA, FTC to tell manufacturers drinks "unsafe"

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators are planning to crack down on companies selling alcoholic beverages that include a jolt of caffeine amid pressure from lawmakers, states and consumer groups that contend the drinks are dangerous.

Two U.S. agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, are expected to warn manufacturers that adding caffeine to beer and other alcoholic drinks is unsafe and will caution them against marketing such beverages, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said on Tuesday.

Doing so "will effectively ban products from the market," Schumer said in a statement. He did not say when the agencies would act, and representatives for the FDA and the FTC had no comment.

Schumer and other U.S. lawmakers, as well as attorneys general in states such as Connecticut, have lobbied heavily for some kind of federal regulatory action following reports of young adults across the U.S. passing out or being hospitalized after consuming the so-called alcohol energy drinks.

Consumer advocates have also been urging tougher action against the drinks, sold mostly by privately held companies under the brands Four Loko, Joose and others. The cheap, fruit flavored drinks are growing in popularity, especially among college students, they say.

"Compounded with its health risks, beverages like Four Loko pose a unique danger because they target young people," Schumer said, noting that such drinks can contain the caffeine equivalent of up to three cups of coffee and the alcohol equivalent of three cans of beer per container.

Major beermakers have already abandoned such products.

Units of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI.BR) and SABMiller Plc (SAB.L), the world's No. 1 and No. 2 brewers, pulled caffeinated alcohol drinks from U.S. shelves in 2008 after mounting pressure from several state attorneys general.

Their absence left room for small, entrepreneurial players like Phusion Projects, maker of Four Loko.

Several states have already implemented bans, according to Representative Rosa DeLauro, head of a House panel that oversees the FDA, who urged a ban earlier this week.

Asked if the agency could act as early as Wednesday, FDA spokeswoman Beth Martino said the agency "is reviewing the scientific data regarding the safety of these drinks" but declined further comment.

Schumer posted the statement on his website at link.reuters.com/xeh75q (Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in New York; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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