Maker Halts Distribution of Alcoholic Energy Drink

November 15th, 2010 by Staff

Source: NY Times — On the streets and in the bodegas, some people say they enjoy the taste of Four Loko, a potent and fruity malt beverage high in alcohol content and caffeine that critics have called a “blackout in a can.”

It will not be on the shelves much longer. On Sunday, state officials announced that Phusion Projects, the Chicago company that makes Four Loko, had voluntarily agreed to halt shipments to New York State by Friday.

Gov. David A. Paterson and the State Liquor Authority said in a statement that distributors would have until Dec. 10 to clear their inventory of the product. Groceries, bodegas and candy stores would have a longer, unspecified grace period.

“This is going to protect our young people,” State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein said at a news conference outside the liquor authority’s offices in Harlem. “This is going to make sure our young people no longer have access to this dangerous product. But I don’t think our work is done.”

Mr. Klein has for months pressed for stricter regulations of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, which have been said to cause a “wide-awake drunk.”

Four Loko, which has an alcohol content of 12 percent and as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, came under scrutiny this fall after students who drank it at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., and Ramapo College in New Jersey ended up in emergency rooms, some with high levels of alcohol poisoning.

Earlier this month, both Washington State and Michigan banned the sale of energy drinks that contain alcohol and caffeine.

Jaisen Freeman, a founder and the managing partner of Phusion Projects, said in a statement that the company was the first to voluntarily halt shipments.

“And we think it shows that we are not turning a deaf ear to what’s going on,” he said, “that a select few have chosen to abuse our products, drink them while under age or break the law and sell them to minors.”

Kirk Leslie, 28, a Harlem resident who happened to be passing the news conference where there was a display of Four Loko and other beverages, said that the alcoholic energy drink “tasted nice” and that “they got worse stuff out there.”

In some uptown bodegas, where Four Loko is often found between the beer and the juices, owners and clerks did not seem particularly concerned.

“It’s not that popular,” said Ali Basem, a 22-year-old clerk at a store on West 135th Street.

Mr. Basem added that that he had sold only about 100 cans in two months. He reinforced Senator Klein’s concerns when he said that he had a pretty good idea of who was attracted to the drink.

“The kids get wild when they ask for it,” he said. “When they drink too much of it, they start acting crazy.” Mr. Basem said many customers turned to Four Loko after liquor stores close.

“So they come here, and they get it because it gets them twisted,” he said.

At the Lenox U.S. Deli, on Malcolm X Boulevard, Nabil Nasher, who said he was the store’s president, sounded equally unperturbed, if not pleased, by the coming disappearance of Four Loko.

“If something’s wrong, you have to stop it,” said Mr. Nasher, 49. “We can sell something else.”

One of his customers, Kena Marcell, a 32-year-old party promoter, said everyone she knew who had drank Four Loko had “not had a very good experience with it.”

“Nobody needs that much caffeine in one drink,” she said, “and making it pretty with different colorful cans is just not necessary.”

In his statement, Mr. Freeman said his company still believed “that combining caffeine and alcohol is safe — if that weren’t the case, Irish coffees and rum and colas would be under scrutiny as well.”


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