The Frenzy Over Alcoholic Energy Drinks

After a spate of incidents involving so-called alcoholic energy drinks, the FDA issued warning letters to four makers of these drinks, classifying the caffeine in their malt-alcohol beverages as an "unsafe food additive."

The regulatory agency, which has been considering the safety of the syrupy drinks’ concentration for about a year, decided that their combination of a cup of coffee's worth of caffeine and an alcohol concentration of 7 to 12 percent fails to reach of the legal standard of being "generally recognized as safe."

Doctors and the FDA are warning the caffeine-intensified buzz not only disarms a drinker's ability to judge how much he or she has had to drink, but also could pose serious threats to heart health. As a result of the FDA’s decision, drink-makers must remove the unsafe additive or face legal action. The makers of the drink Four Loko have decided to comply.

While I and many others are glad this potentially dangerous temptation will be off the shelves, Jacob Sullim, senior editor at Reason magazine, argues the moral disapproval that surrounds the drinks is a result of mistaking correlation for causation. "The general style of reasoning driving the moral panic over this drink category [is]: If something bad happens and Four Loko is anywhere in the vicinity, blame Four Loko," he wrote.

He theorizes that requiring the reformulation of Four Loko will make it taste better, and thus render it more attractive to underage drinkers. But there are a host of these drinks already, and adding another to this section of the refrigerator seems unlikely to entice more young people to drink to an unhealthy level.

Meanwhile, the uproar is only growing in Florida, where residents who have been injured by people who had been drinking Four Loko -– one was in a car accident; another's son committed suicide -- have filed two lawsuits against the makers of the drink. Is that taking it too far? Was the FDA right to ban these drinks, or is it simply overreacting to the hype?

Posted by Laura Williams on Nov 22, 2010

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