In short, the FDA effectively outlawed the sale of drinks which contained caffeine and alcohol, of which the best known was Four Loko AKA 'blackout in a can'. This came after a series of
These drinks are, or were, nothing more than alcohol combined with the kind of energy drinks that are available everywhere. Consequently, it took almost a second for drinkers across America to work out what they needed to do to get around the FDA ban. The gentleman below explains the cunning plan in 37 seconds.
So, having hyped up a scare that wasn't there and brought in a ban that won't work, the next logical step has to be extending the ban to paper over the cracks.
Jacob Sullum reports at Reason:
Mary Claire O'Brien, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine who helped foment the moral panic that led the FDA to ban Four Loko and three other brands of caffeinated malt beverages last fall, says the fight against demonic drinks is far from over.
"These premixed alcoholic energy drinks are only a fraction of the true public health risk," she and co-author Amelia Arria, a researcher at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, warn in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association commentary. "Regular (nonalcoholic) energy drinks might pose just as great a threat to individual and public health and safety."
Notice that energy drinks are not just a threat to health, but are—miraculously—"just as great a threat" to health as when they were mixed with alcohol. If true, that would make the banning of Four Loko look pretty futile. It means that something must be done, dammit. It would also suggest that alcohol itself is not a health risk, or at least that it is no more dangerous than the energy drinks with which it is mixed. Those energy drinks are widely available and have no age restrictions. And that, of course, raises a very important question; one that doesn't get asked enough these days...
Fortunately, Pediatrics—the World's Worst Journal™—is on hand to fan that particular flame:*
Heavy caffeine consumption, such as drinking energy drinks, has been associated with even more serious consequences such as seizures, mania, stroke, and sudden death....
Children, especially those with cardiovascular, renal, or liver disease, seizures, diabetes, mood and behavioral disorders, or hyperthyroidism or those who take certain medications, may be at higher risk for adverse events from energy-drink consumption...
Unless research establishes energy-drink safety in children and adolescents, regulation, as with tobacco, alcohol, and prescription medications, is prudent.
As Sullum points out, Pediatrics equates heavy caffeine consumption with energy drinks, when by far the most common 'caffeine-delivery device' is the humble cup of coffee. No one is (yet) suggesting that coffee be treated as a controlled substance. As I mentioned in a recent post on the subject of red wine, I suspect that this is because middle-class public health professionals drink coffee but don't drink Red Bull, just as they will drink wine but won't drink Four Loko.
Since a can of Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine (comfortably below the recommended limit for children and adolescents) and a short coffee from Starbucks has 180 (far above it), the focus on energy drinks—which the authors suggest should be restricted like cigarettes, alcohol, or maybe Valium—is puzzling, especially since, by their own account, American teenagers typically do not consume very much caffeine. "In the United States," the article says, "adolescent caffeine intake averages 60 to 70 mg/day." But why let that stand in the way of a good panic?
Incidentally, the Pediatrics study itself is another belter. Masochists can read the whole thing here, but the methodology alone tells you that it's up to Pediatrics' usual standards of scientific excellence.
OBJECTIVE To review the effects, adverse consequences, and extent of energy-drink consumption among children, adolescents, and young adults.
METHODS We searched PubMed and Google using "energy drink," "sports drink," "guarana," "caffeine," "taurine," "ADHD," "diabetes," "children," "adolescents," "insulin," "eating disorders," and "poison control center" to identify articles related to energy drinks. Manufacturer Web sites were reviewed for product information.
How do they find these people? "Scientist wanted — must have internet access and own pyjamas."