The Food and Drug Administration just issued warning letters to the makers of pre-mixed caffeine and alcohol beverages (e.g., “Four Loko”). I describe some of the health concerns about these beverages at Stanford Medical School’s SCOPE blog.
The FDA action is another step in a long regulatory process. The State Attorneys General successfully pressured major manufacturers to stop making caffeineated alcoholic beverages a few years ago. But smaller firms with less to lose jumped into the breach and created companies which revolved almost entirely around these combination drinks.
The FDA is getting criticized by some Senators for taking a year to make its decision. I don’t think that is fair. Of federal agencies whose expected workload outstrips their budget, FDA belongs at the top of the list. Further, while politicians are free to make strong statements based on individual apparent safety incidents that hit the media (e.g., like this one), the FDA has to dig through the science very carefully because there is a legitimate competing concern: Putting a company out of business causes harm to its employees and the economy, so you need more than anecdotes to make that judgment definitively. And last, Principal Deputy Commissioner Dr. Josh Sharfstein, who made the announcement today, has a reputation for intelligence and integrity for the best possible reason: He deserves it.