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Over the past decade, caffeinated energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster have become increasingly popular, both as stand-alone beverages and as mixers for consumption in combination with alcohol. The appeal of these drinks as cocktail mixers has led drink makers to also market caffeinated pre-mixed beverages containing alcohol. Popular brands include Joose, Four Loko, Hard Wired, and many others. The rise of this alcohol energy drink (AED) market segment, however, has drawn unwanted scrutiny from federal and state regulators because of allegations that the products are designed and marketed to appeal to underage drinkers. A movement is now afoot to ban these pre-mixed drinks altogether, on the grounds that combining alcohol and caffeine may be unsafe. Consequently, if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and some self-styled public-health advocates have their way, alcohol energy drinks may soon see their final days.
Although the alcohol energy drink market is fairly small, the FDA’s crackdown on it could have much broader ramifications. The same legal rationale being used to attack AEDs—the argument that the addition of caffeine to certain foods and beverages has not been proven to be safe—applies equally to dozens of other popular products that have been on the market for years with no ill effects, such as many caffeinated soft drinks, coffee flavored liquors, and various foods with added caffeine. Consequently, the FDA’s war on pre-mixed alcohol energy drinks could cause substantial collateral damage in the nation’s food and beverage market.
The FDA came to demonize pre-mixed drinks containing alcohol and caffeine—and sometimes other natural substances like ginseng and guarana—by latching onto a few tangentially relevant scientific studies in a misguided effort to shut down a small, politically incorrect segment of the alcohol beverage market. Worse, the FDA has ignored both history and its own regulations in a politicized effort to crack down on caffeine and alcohol.