Senator Charles Schumer called on the State Liquor Authority to ban Four Loko and similar caffeinated alcoholic beverages today.
“These drinks combine alcohol and caffeine in a toxic and dangerous brew that makes students black out, end up in the hospital and sometimes even worse,” said Schumer. “The drinks are spreading like a plague across the country.”
The afternoon press conference marked something of a return for Senator Schumer, who has mostly laid low the last few months. Now, with the election behind him, Schumer appears to be turning his attention back to populist causes like this one, as part of his constant quest to look out for the middle class.
Schumer’s indictment of Four Loko, Joose, and similar drinks was twofold.
First, he said that adding caffeine to alcohol is dangerous because it masks the effects of alcohol. “Becuase they’re loaded with caffeine, they provide increased stamina and energy that allows the person to continue drinking past the point where you’d normally stop,” he said.
On Friday, the State Liquor Authority spokesman William Crowley said that they were concerned about Four Loko and Joose, but that “as it’s written, the statute doesn’t give us the power to ban these products.”
According to Senator Schumer, the Liquor Authority has the right to ban the drinks’ sale because the FDA has not determined that adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages is “generally recognized as safe.” Schumer first asked the FDA to investigate the drinks in July, but said they have not completed their investigation.
Second, Schumer criticized the marketing tactics of companies like Four Loko and Joose, which mimic non-alcoholic energy drinks and appeal to young people.
“These companies target teens through their advertising. They make the can look like any other energy drink, charge as little as $2.50 a can, stock them next to the energy drinks,” he said. He called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate these tactics in July as well.
“My message to the FDA and the FTC is: Get with it,” Schumer said.
Senator Schumer was joined by Jacqueline Celestino, grandmother of Nicole Celestino, a Long Island 17-year-old who died in August from a cardiac arrhythmia brought on by taking a diet pill and consuming Four Loko. Her blood alcohol level was only .05 when she was admitted to the hospital.
“It’s the government’s responsibility to do the best they can to ban drinks like this,” Celestino said.
Schumer pointed to states like Michigan and Oklahoma as having set precedents for statewide bans. Although in other states executive officials have been involved in the ban, Schumer told The Observer he had not reached out to the attorney general or the governor.
“We’re going right to the State Liquor Authority,” he said.