Mass. bans Four Loko, other caffeinated booze

November 19, 2010

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BOSTON—Massachusetts liquor regulators on Thursday banned the sale of caffeine-packed alcoholic drinks, making the state the fifth in the nation to outlaw Four Loko and other potent beverages known as "blackout in a can."

The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission filed an emergency regulation banning the drinks and ordering their immediate removal from stores, said Kim Gainsboro, who heads the agency.

The commission had originally planned to simply restrict sales of the drinks beginning Monday. But officials took a tougher stance Thursday, a day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned four drink manufacturers that the caffeine is an "unsafe food additive."

The potent drinks are popular with students looking for a quick and cheap buzz. But some officials have warned that caffeine and other stimulants lacing the beverages encourage binge drinking by preventing consumers from realizing how drunk they might be.

Four Loko already has been banned in Washington, Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma. Liquor distributors in Connecticut have also voluntarily agreed to stop shipments and deliveries of the beverage and its variants.

Illinois-based Phusion Projects, which manufactures Four Loko, announced late Tuesday that it would reformulate its drinks and remove the caffeine, guarana and taurine stimulants after unsuccessfully trying to deal with "a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels."

Last year, the FDA notified more than two dozen manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages that it never had specifically approved the addition of caffeine to alcoholic drinks and began studying whether it was unsafe and should be outlawed. The agency noted the mix's growing popularity among college students and its potential health and safety issues.