* Washington votes to ban alcohol-caffeine drinks
* Ban follows hospitalization of nine youths
* Emergency ban for 120 days while full ban worked out
* Major brewers have stopped mixing alcohol, caffeine
By Bill Rigby
SEATTLE, Nov 10 Washington state's Liquor
Control Board has voted to ban sales of high-alcohol energy
drinks, known as "blackout in a can," following the
hospitalization of nine students in the state last month.
Washington is the second state to outlaw the highly
caffeinated, heavy-alcohol beverages popular with young people
after Michigan banned them earlier this month.
The emergency ban will last for 120 days from Nov. 17,
while the board goes through the procedure of introducing a
Major brewers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) and
SABMiller SAB.L stopped making drinks mixing alcohol and
caffeine after pressure from various states, but smaller
companies have filled the gap in the market.
In October, nine Central Washington University college
students were hospitalized after drinking quantities of Four
Loko brand drinks and similar beverages off-campus. According
to the university, the blood-alcohol level of the students
ranged from .123 to .35, where .30 is considered lethal.
Four Loko, a highly sugared and caffeinated malt liquor
made by Phusion Projects, is 12 percent alcohol, which means
one 23.5-ounce can is comparable to drinking five or six
Health experts say caffeine suspends the effects of
alcohol, allowing people to continue drinking long after they
normally would have stopped.
The ban means caffeine-alcohol drinks cannot be sold in
grocery stores in the state starting on Nov. 17. Washington
state liquor stores did not carry them.
Mainstream companies have withdrawn similar products in the
last few years, under threats of legal action by states.
Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser beer, agreed in 2008
to take caffeine out of energy drinks that contain alcohol,
such as its Tilt product, after 11 state attorneys general
charged the brewer was marketing them to underage drinkers.
The same year MillerCoors, a joint venture between
SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Co (TAP.N), agreed to remove
caffeine from its Sparks energy-alcohol drink.
(Reporting by Bill Rigby. Additional reporting by Martinne
Geller. Editing by Steve Gorman, Jerry Norton and Robert