The N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission voted on Thursday to allow retailers to return the drinks to wholesalers for refunds and to begin drawing up rules to enhance the commission’s ability to regulate alcoholic beverages that also contain stimulants.
Commission Chairman Jon Williams said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s action on Wednesday, Nov. 17 to warn four makers of the drinks that they are unsafe “effectively acts as ban on these products” that will take effect 15 days after the warning.
Allowing refunds will result in the “rapid and orderly withdrawal of the drinks,” Williams said.
The FDA said drinks that combine significant amounts of caffeine with malt alcohol are dangerous because people drinking them often do not realize how drunk they are. Studies show that people consuming the drinks often engage in risky behavior, the agency said. One manufacturer, Phusion Projects, has said it will remove caffeine from its Four Loko drink, but another maker has pooh-poohed reports of problems.
The majority of the drinks have a 12 percent alcohol content and drinking it is the equivalent of drinking four beers.
There have been several instances of problems linked to the drinks on college campuses, including one at Central Washington University in which nine students were hospitalized after a party where students drank Four Loko.
“These products are designed, branded and promoted to encourage binge drinking,” said Gil Kerlikowske, the White House drug policy director.
In North Carolina, the drinks are sold in grocery and convenience stores, not in ABC stores, but the ABC Commission still has regulatory authority over them.
New state rules on beverages that combine a stimulant and alcohol could go into effect early next year, said Agnes Stevens, a spokeswoman for the commission. The rules would require that beer products state on their labels what, if any, stimulants they contain and would allow the commission to ban beers or wines if public health concerns arise.
Some states have already banned alcoholic energy drinks and several others are moving to do so.