Caffeinated alcoholic drink.

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the New York State Liquor Authority to immediately ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including the drink Four Loko, from being sold in New York State. Schumer was joined in his call by Jacqueline Celestino, grandmother of Nicole Lynn Celestino, a 17 year old from Long Island who passed away after drinking the caffeinated alcoholic beverage Four Loko. Nicole, went into cardiac arrest after drinking Four Loko this past August, she had taken a diet pill that day. Nicole’s family has become outspoken advocates for a ban on alcoholic caffeinated drinks like Four Loko.

In July, Schumer called on the FDA to investigate the safety of these drinks.  In his letter to the State Liquor Authority today, Schumer noted that the FDA has never approved or determined that caffeine in alcoholic beverages like Four Loko is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), which therefore allows the New York State Liquor Authority to implement a state ban on their sale.  While the FDA continues its review, Schumer said the state must act now and immediately ban these drinks in New York.

A dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol, these drinks have led to student hospitalizations across the country – including six students at Ramapo College in New Jersey and nine students at Central Washington University last month. States and universities across the country have acted swiftly to ban the product.

“Four Loko, and drinks like it, are a toxic, dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol, and they are spreading like a plague across the country. While we wait for the Food and Drug Administration to Act, we need to take matters into our own hands here in New York and ban their sale,” Schumer said. “Since the FDA has never approved of these drinks as safe, the New York Liquor Authority has the ability to ban their sale.”

Popular drinks such as Four Loko and Joose contain as much as 2-3 coffee cups worth of caffeine and twice the amount of alcohol as a bottle of beer per container – a potent, dangerous mix that can be extremely hazardous for teens and adults alike. Michigan and Oklahoma have already banned Four Loko, while a number of other states and cities have considered instituting a ban. Universities across the country have also acted to ban the drink – including Ramapo College, Worcester State University, the University of Rhode Island and the Wentworth Institute of Technology –  in addition to the growing list of universities that have warned their students about its risks.

Schumer has been pressing the FDA for months to immediately make public its findings from an investigation into possible health risks posed by caffeinated alcoholic beverages. It has been over a year since the FDA began its review of whether the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages is safe – but the agency has yet to produce a finding. In a letter written with Senators Feinstein, Kloobuchar and Merkley, Schumer urged the FDA to complete its probe into the drinks and issue a public finding.

Compounded with its health risks, beverages like Four Loko pose a unique danger because they target young people. Also in July, Schumer called on the FTC to investigate whether companies that sell caffeinated alcoholic beverages, such as Four Loko and Joose, were marketing the drinks to minors by branding them to look like energy drinks. The style of the beverages – with a vibrantly colored aluminum can colors and funky designs – could appeal to younger consumers, increasing the likelihood that the beverages will be consumed by young adults and creating a problem for parents and business owners who might be misled by the branding.

The dangers of these drinks are well known – and similar drinks have been pulled from the market. A recent study found that young and underage drinkers who combine alcohol with caffeine, which occurs with increasing frequency given the prevalence of beverages like Four Loko and Joose, are more likely to suffer injury, be the victim of sexual assault, drive while intoxicated, and require medical attention than drinkers who consume caffeine-free beverages. In 2008, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and MillerCoors LLC reformulated caffeinated alcoholic beverages under pressure from several states and regulatory bodies, but smaller companies like the manufacturers of Four Loko and Joose continue to sell the increasingly popular drinks.

A copy of the senator’s letter can be found below.

November 10, 2010

The Honorable Dennis Rosen

Chairman, New York State Liquor Authority

The Honorable Jeanique Green

The Honorable Noreen Healey

Commissioners, New York State Liquor Authority

80 S. Swan Street

Albany, New York 12210-8002

Dear Chairman Rosen and Commissioners Green and Healey,

I write today to urge the New York State Liquor Authority to issue an immediate ban on the distribution and sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages in New York State.  These increasingly popular drinks raise serious health risks and have been implicated in alcohol-related emergencies and hospitalizations and have been linked to deaths around the country.

In July, I asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move expeditiously to issue a decision on the safety and legality of caffeinated alcoholic beverages.  They have yet to do so.  In fact, the FDA has never approved the use of caffeine as an additive for use in alcoholic drinks. As such, the New York State Liquor Authority would appear to have the authority to ban caffeinated alcoholic products. While I am optimistic the FDA will soon issue a decision banning these harmful and destructive drinks, every day without such a ban puts our children at risk. It is imperative that New York follow the lead of states like Michigan and Oklahoma and implement a ban on these drinks.

Studies have shown that caffeinated alcoholic beverages raise unique and disturbing safety concerns, especially for younger drinkers.  One study found that young drinkers who combine alcohol with caffeine are at increased risk of harm.  Specifically, the study found that younger drinkers are twice as likely to be the victim of sexual assault, ride with a drunk driver, and be hurt or injured as a result of their drinking enough to seek medical attention.  These findings are alarming, particularly given the skyrocketing popularity of caffeinated alcoholic beverages and the fact that the beverage manufacturers seem to be actively marketing to young and possibly underage drinkers.

Under these circumstances, it is imperative that the New York State Liquor Authority move swiftly to ban these drinks.  I firmly believe the New York State Liquor Authority has the ability and authority to ban these dangerous beverages and I urge them to do so immediately.  I also ask that you work with New York universities and colleges to alert students to the dangers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages and support efforts to ban these drinks on campus. We must all continue to work diligently to curb unsafe alcohol consumption.  I look forward to working with you on this important issue.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator