FTC Targets Marketers of Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks

The FTC has given the marketers/distributors of
caffeinated "malternatives" 15 days to take "swift and
appropriate action" to protect consumers from products it says may present
"unusual risks to health and safety."

Pointing to recent reports of young people
hospitalized or worse after drinking caffeinated alcohol, the FTC sent warning
letters (http://www.ftc.gov/os/closings/warnings/unitedbranksletter.pdf)
to the marketers of Joose (http://www.drinkjoose.com/new.html), Four
Loko, Core Spiked, Moonshot and others giving them 15 days to review their
marketing practices.

"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 announcing the warning
letters. "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."'

According to the FTC, some of the drinks contain
the equivalent alcohol content of three or four regular beers as well as the
extra shot of caffeine.

The letters warn that the marketing and sale of
the products may, in themselves, constitute "an unfair or deceptive act or

They point out that the FDA has simultaneously
sent letters to the same companies warning them that the addition of caffeine
to their products may constitute an "unsafe food additive."

The vote to send the letters was a bipartisan 5-0

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called on his state to ban the
drinks, which the FTC cited in its letter to the marketers, along with stories
from ABC and CBS about the possible health risks of the drinks and newspaper
stories about hospitalizations and one death from cardiac arrest.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.