When choosing holiday spirits this season, it may be best to stay away from those loaded with both alcohol and caffeine.
The Federal Trade Commission recently sent warning letters to four marketers of caffeinated alcohol drinks. Citing incidents “suggesting that alcohol containing added caffeine presents unusual risks to health and safety,” the FTC letters warned that marketing of such beverages may constitute an unfair or deceptive practice that violates the FTC Act. Companies receiving letters include:
- United Brands Co., which sells Joose and Max caffeinated alcohol beverages. The carbonated malt beverages come in fruity flavors, and one 23.5-ounce can of Joose or Max has about the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers.
- Phusion Products LLC, which sells Four Loko and Four Maxed carbonated malt beverages offered in fruity flavors. Four Loko is sold in 23.5-ounce cans, which have the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers, as well as added caffeine, taurine, and guarana. Four Maxed is sold in 16-ounce cans, which have the same alcohol content as about three regular beers and contain added caffeine.
- Charge Beverages Corporation, which sells Core High Gravity, Core Spiked, and El Jefe carbonated malt beverages sold in fruit flavors, with added caffeine, taurine, guarana, and ginseng. One 23.5-ounce can of Core High Gravity or Core Spiked contains the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers. A 32-ounce can of grape-flavored El Jefe has the same alcohol content as six regular or seven light beers.
- New Century Brewing Company, which sells the caffeinated malt alcohol beverage Moonshot. A 12-ounce bottle of Moonshot contains 5 percent alcohol by volume.
The Food and Drug Administration has simultaneously announced that it is sending letters to the same four companies, warning that, as used in their products, caffeine is an “unsafe food additive” under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
“Consumers might mistakenly assume that these beverages are safe because they are widely sold,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “In fact, there is good reason to believe that these caffeinated alcohol drinks pose significant risks to consumer health and safety. Consumers – particularly young, inexperienced drinkers – may not realize how much alcohol they have consumed because caffeine can mask the sense of intoxication.”
The FTC letters strongly urge the companies to review the way they are marketing their caffeinated alcohol drinks and to “take swift and appropriate steps to protect consumers.” The FTC has instructed the companies to notify the agency within 15 days of the actions they have taken.
The Commission vote approving the warning letters was 5-0.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.