State ban on caffeinated alcohol drinks starts Nov. 18
The state Liquor Control Board on Wednesday approved an emergency ban of caffeinated alcohol drinks, the type of beverage that sickened nine Central Washington University students last month.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — The state Liquor Control Board on Wednesday approved an emergency ban of caffeinated alcohol drinks, the type of beverage that sickened nine Central Washington University students last month during an off-campus party.
Board members said they acted out of concern for public health and safety. The ban will start Nov. 18 and remain in place for 120 days while the board goes through rule-making procedures for a permanent ban.
The Legislature is also expected to consider a ban early next year.
"The Liquor Control Board has a duty to protect the safety of the people of Washington state," Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a news conference after the vote. "It has fulfilled that duty by banning these drinks."
Gregoire, who had requested the board action, said she'd been concerned that caffeinated alcohol drinks were targeting young people.
"Reports of inexperienced or underage drinkers consuming them in reckless amounts have given us cause for concern," she said. "With hospitalizations and near-lethal blood-alcohol levels, many of these young folks were unaware just how drunk they had become. ... Quite simply these drinks are real trouble for our youth."
Phusion Projects, maker of Four Loko, a drink consumed at the party, issued a statement saying the ban is based on "misguided information and does not address the issue at hand. If the true concern was to preserve the public health, safety, and general welfare, this ban would also address caffeinated liquor products, which contain three to four times as much alcohol as our products.
"Instead, under this ban, these products will remain legal and accessible to the same subset of the population that chose not to consume our products responsibly... "
The Roslyn incident was "disturbing and unacceptable," the statement also said, adding the board action "does little" to address the issue of underage drinking.
The six women and three men students who became ill at the Oct. 8 house party in Roslyn, Kittitas County, were under 21 and had high blood-alcohol readings.
One woman nearly died, officials said, noting that consuming a single, 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko, which is 12 percent alcohol, is considered comparable to drinking five or six beers.
The drink is among two dozen products on the market that some have dubbed "blackout in a can."
Critics say the hefty dose of caffeine in the drinks masks the effects of the alcohol.
The makers of the products counter that combining alcohol and caffeine is not new. Fans of the beverages compare them to cocktails such as Irish coffee, rum-and-cola and vodka-and-Red Bull, all of which combine alcohol and a stimulant.
Since the Roslyn incident, various groceries across the state have pulled the caffeinated alcohol products off the shelves.
Washington state liquor stores do not carry the products, but many convenience stores do, according to the Liquor Control Board.
This month, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission banned Four Loko and dozens of similar drinks.
Last year, 25 state attorneys general, including Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna, asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to examine the beverages.
Dan Sytman, a spokesman for McKenna, said the FDA is investigating and his office expects to hear from the agency soon.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or email@example.com. Information from Seattle Times archives and The Associated Press is included in this report.
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