Michigan Bans Caffeinated Alcohol Drinks

Beverage maker plans legal challenge

LANSING, Mich. -- The state of Michigan has banned caffeinated alcoholic beverages. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) rescinding the approval of all "alcohol energy drinks." The commission will notify beverage makers via a commission order about the product ban; they will have 30 days to remove these products from the state of Michigan, it said.

The decision was made in light of the several studies regarding caffeinated alcoholic beverages and community concerns aired by substance abuse prevention groups, parent groups and various members of the public, as well [image-nocss] as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) decision to further investigate these products.

MLCC said that it believes the packaging is often misleading, and the products themselves can pose problems by directly appealing to a younger customer, encouraging excessive consumption, while mixing alcohol with various other chemical and herbal stimulants. The recent events regarding minors in Washington State and other concerns from emergency room doctors quoted throughout the country have prompted chairperson Nida Samona and commissioner Patrick Gagliardi to take action, it added. (Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage.)

"The commission's concern for the health, safety and welfare of Michigan citizens and the fact that there is not enough research to validate that these products are safe for consumption has made me believe that until further research is done by the FDA, they should no longer be on Michigan shelves," said Samona. "Alcohol has been recognized as the number one drug problem among youth, and the popularity of alcohol energy drinks is increasing at an alarming rate among college students and underage drinkers."

A typical alcohol energy drink is 24 ounces and has a 12% alcohol content, compared to a 12-oz. can of beer, which normally has an alcohol content ranging from 4 to 5%; it is almost three to four times the alcohol content of a 12-oz. beer, MLCC said.

"One can, one serving, is enough to get you intoxicated. Alcohol energy drinks cost on average $2 to $5 per can, making these products easily accessible and affordable," said Gagliardi.

The Michigan Association of Convenience Stores said it would not fight the ruling, but Mark Griffin, president of the association expressed surprise at the decision. "Our experience with the state is they would prefer to tax the products we sell to generate additional revenues. I'm surprised there hasn't been an effort to triple the tax on these products to bail themselves out of their financial crisis."Chicago-based Phusion Projects LLC, which makes Four Loko, one of the high-profile caffeinated alcoholic beverages being targeted by the MLCC and others, issued a statement on the MLCC ban:

"We disagree with the recent decision by only two members of the [MLCC] to rescind the approval of all 'alcohol energy drinks' in the State of Michigan. The commission did not provide advance notice of its proposed action, voted on the ban with only three of the five commissioners in attendance (two to one vote), and did not give parties who will be affected by the ban any opportunity to be heard on whether the ban is warranted or authorized by law."

It added, "The commission's precipitous and ill-conceived action, if allowed to stand, will adversely affect many businesses in Michigan, including ours, and will deprive the state of millions of dollars of tax revenue. Moreover, the action of these two commissioners may create a dangerous precedent for reevaluating all federally and state-approved beer products in Michigan, not just caffeinated alcoholic beverages. For these reasons, we intend to pursue all legal options and vigorously challenge the commission's action as procedurally and substantively deficient well before the ban would go into effect."

"As a responsible member of the alcoholic beverage industry, we go above and beyond federal and state labeling requirements. All of our products feature prominent labels that clearly show that the beverages contain alcohol and can only be sold to adults of legal drinking age."

Click hereto view the full text of Phusion's statement.Phusion also has reached out to more than 100 colleges and universities around the United States to share information about its products, offer support for alcohol education efforts on campus and request the opportunity to discuss ways to work together to combat alcohol abuse and underage drinking on college campuses (to read the letter,click here).

Separately, members of Chicago's City Council have proposed their own ban on "energy" drinks that contain alcohol, reported The Chicago Tribune. Aldermen Edward Burke and Gene Schulter on Wednesday proposed a citywide ban of premixed alcoholic caffeinated drinks, claiming the drinks are dangerous for young adults who might not realize their negative effects, said the report.

"We're disappointed by the recent call to ban our product from being sold in Chicago, where our company is headquartered, because we know curbing alcohol abuse will not be accomplished by singling out a lone product or beverage category," Phusion said in a statement cited by the newspaper.

In response to Michigan's ban, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission said the General Assembly has not given the commission authority to ban such products. "We are certainly watching carefully at what local governments are doing, and if the General Assembly were to change the law and ban them, we would certainly enforce it," Sue Hofer, commission spokesperson, told the paper.

Click here to view the MLCC commission order.