All the excitement about FourLoko is just a snapshot in the history of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, or CABs. Here are six facts that will give you a little more insight into one of this fall’s most talked about controversies.
1. FourLoko has more caffeine and alcohol than a Red Bull-Vodka. Here’s a quick caffeine and alcohol content comparison that shows the differences:
Red Bull Vodka: 14.46oz @ 16.6% ABV, 80mg caffeine, 2.4oz alcohol, definitely more than $2.50.
Vodka: 6 oz, 40%ABV, .6oz alcohol per 1.5 oz of drink –> 2.4oz alcohol
Red Bull: 8.46oz., 80mg caffeine
2.4oz alcohol/(6oz+8.46oz) = 16.6%ABV
2. FourLoko is going to become OneLoko. Containing alcohol, caffeine, taurine, and guarana, the most popular CAB is going to be reformulated to NOT contain caffeine, taurine, and guarana.
3. The FDA has actually been investigating the safety of caffeine as an additive in alcoholic beverages for about a year now. CABs were reported on by the New York Times last November. Warning letters were sent to thirty manufacturers of CABs, advising them to provide evidence for the safety of adding caffeine to alcohol.
4. Two years ago, MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch had plans to sell Sparks and Tilt, caffeine-infused alcoholic beverages until state attorneys general got wind of the product. After being threatened with lawsuits from 25 state attorneys general, the companies reformulated products, abandoning the CAB concept.
5. Alcohol is regulated by Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the Treasury Department. That means that CABs currently on the market probably haven’t undergone any stringent health evaluations before going to market. Marion Nestle does a great job summarizing the issue over at Food Politics, stating:
If this incident illustrates anything, it’s that alcohol beverages require the same kind of scrutiny given to any other food product and their regulation needs to move to an agency that cares about their effects on health.
6. As we’ve mentioned previously, the FDA does not have the power to pull products from the marketplace without going through many hoops. So what is all this about the FDA “banning” FourLoko? What’s really happening is that the FDA is considering whether adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). If the FDA deems the mixture unsafe, producing CABs would be illegal. Just to complicate things, I’d like to point out that the FDA could establish a threshold for caffeine in alcohol (like the one for sodas) instead of a blanket non-GRAS. In the meantime, CAB manufacturers have been notified of the FDA’s current stance and some have responded by reformulating products. Suffice to say that while the public may not be hearing much more about CABs, there will be a lot going on behind the scenes at the FDA and the companies that produce these products.