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Washington Bans Caffeinated Alcohol Drinks

Washington has barred the sale of pre-mixed caffeinated alcohol beverages.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board voted unanimously Wednesday to impose a statewide ban on alcohol energy drinks similar to those already announced in Michigan, Oklahoma and Utah. Washington’s new rule takes effect Nov. 18.

Both Washington’s Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire, and its Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna, supported the emergency ban, which will be in place for 120 days while the liquor board works to make the rule permanent.

The action comes a month after nine Central Washington University students became seriously ill–one girl nearly died of alcohol poisoning–after drinking a brand of stimulant-laced malt liquor called Four Loko at an off-campus party in the town of Roslyn.

Phusion Projects, which makes Four Loko, and other makers of similar brews have complained they are being singled out for scrutiny.  They argue their pre-mixed products are no different than traditional caffeine-alcohol cocktails such as rum and cola or Irish coffee.

Malt liquor products enhanced with caffeine, guarana and other stimulants are typically fruit-flavored and sold in cans as large as 24 oz. with an alcohol content that may range from 7 to 12 percent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently conducting an investigation into whether they are legal and whether they pose serious public health risks.

Phusion Projects issued an open letter to state and federal regulators Wednesday that said, “Until the FDA concludes its examination, our intent and our commitment to you is that if you reach the conclusion that combining caffeine with either malt or liquor-based alcohols is unsafe, we will abide by any industry-wide, uniform standards that the appropriate governing bodies may develop.”

The statement also said, “If mixing caffeine and alcohol is the most pressing concern, addressing it would be best accomplished by creating laws that apply to the entire caffeinated alcoholic beverage category – not specific, individual products and not just beers or malt-based products. This is especially important given that liquor-based beverages have three to four-times the alcohol content as products like ours. If product-specific bans remain the preferred course of action, we will protect our rights as a business to the fullest extent of the law.”

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