March 24 2010 12:00 AM

Local advocates want alcoholic energy drinks banned


     


     


    Four Loko and Joose — these beverages might not be familiar to a parent shopping with an underage son or daughter. But packaged in cans and containing stimulating ingredients similar to energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull, there is only one difference: They contain alcohol.


    Several local public health advocates and safety groups are lobbying to get the products taken off the market in Michigan — or at least get the packaging changed — because of concerns over underage drinking and the danger of mixing stimulants with alcohol. The advocates lobbied the Michigan Liquor Control Commission at its March 11 meeting about their concerns.


    “Parents in Ingham County are unaware of these products and are under the false belief that they are safe,” said Mike Tobias of the Ingham Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. “We trust the Liquor Control Commission will do what is right and put the health and safety of our children and citizens first.’


    Tobias said that products such as Joose are marketed by mimicking the non-alcoholic energy drinks, and use non-traditional media like Facebook and Twitter to hype the products.


    Tobias understands that bars sell energy drinks such as Red Bull to mix with alcohol, but he said that is not what he is concerned about.


    “Mixing alcohol with stimulants is never a good idea, but the main issue we have is with prepackaged products only,” Tobias said.


    Peter Marino, a spokesman for the Miller/ Coors Brewing Co., which makes Sparks, said the company voluntarily removed caffeine and other stimulants from the malt beverage in 2008. Marino said the company supports removing stimulants from all similar drinks, but could not answer questions about the packaging.


    “The products Four Loko and Joose still have the caffeine and stimulants in them,” said Marino. “We are certainly supportive of Michigan taking the stimulants out of these products.”


    Joose is manufactured by La Mesa, Calif.based United Brands Co., and Four Loko is made by the Chicago-based Drink Four Brewing Co. Neither company responded to requests for comment.


    Harriet Dean, a member of the Ingham Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, said that the packaging of the drinks is a problem because store clerks often confuse the products with non-alcoholic energy drinks.


    “Parents can’t tell the difference either,” she
    said. “So you have a situation where the youth is consuming this
    beverage and their parents can’t tell the difference. We’re not
    suggesting the Liquor Control Commission ban the ones that don’t
    contain alcohol, but by delisting the ones that do, we eliminate the
    problem of not being able to tell the difference.”


    There
    is also research to support that stimulants mixed with alcohol can be
    dangerous. A study by Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien of Wake Forest University
    in North Carolina shows that college students who mix alcohol and
    energy drinks are more likely to be injured, sexually assaulted or
    drive drunk than those who only drink alcohol. O’Brien also discovered
    that college students who reported drinking energy drinks premixed with
    alcohol have twice as many episodes of weekly drunkenness.


    According
    to the Center of Substance Abuse Research at the University of
    Maryland, caffeine can cover up the negative effects of alcohol
    intoxication, increasing the chance that users will take part in
    potentially risky behaviors because they do not feel drunk.


    Marie
    Hansen, chairwoman of the Ingham County Substance Abuse Prevention
    Coalition chairperson, and a member of the group Michigan Alcohol
    Policy Promoting Health and Safety, said delisting prepackaged
    alcoholic energy drinks is one of the issues being looked at in terms
    of trying to affect youth drinking.


    “We’re
    talking young people, ages 18 to 24, and high risk drinking, but the
    greatest issue is how it’s promoted, who it’s targeting and then what
    it says if the state sanctions the selling of this,” said Hansen. “We
    have no doubt people will continue to mix the two. But the idea would
    be that if we don’t sanction the selling of these beverages, then
    people may question themselves, and ask is this a
    good idea?”


    Mike Lashbrook, president of the Michigan Beer and Wine
    Wholesalers Association, said the association has not gotten involved
    with any position on the issue, but is waiting for action from federal
    agencies.


    “It’s not really clear if the Liquor Control Commission can do anything without legislation,” Lashbrook said.


    Lashbrook also said that retail outlets need to be more careful if the beverages are being sold to minors.


    “That’s
    wrong if it’s happening,” said Lashbrook. “Maybe they should be
    packaged differently, and clerks should be trained not to mix these
    products up with regular energy drinks.”


    Lance
    Binoniemi, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage
    Association, said his group focuses on bars and restaurants and has no
    official position, but he said there should be more education on these
    types of products. Binoniemi said a training program offered
    by the association is looking into adding a section that will help
    identify these types of products, especially in off-premise places like
    party stores and gas stations.


    “The
    Liquor Control Commission has the right to regulate the labels of these
    products,” he said. “We are going to be adding this section to the
    program within the next few months to include these products so clerks
    can easily recognize them and not accidentally sell them to minors.”


    The
    Liquor Control Commission did not make a decision on the drinks at the
    March 11 meeting. But Liquor Control Commission chairwoman Nida Samona
    said the commission will hold a meeting and discuss this issue further
    and try to gain access to additional information about its next step.