OLYMPIA - Retailers have a week to clear millions of dollars worth of alcoholic energy drinks from their shelves after state regulators banned them Wednesday, citing the hospitalization of nine dangerously drunk college students last month.
The emergency ban, similar to those in Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma, takes effect Nov. 18. Washington’s rule targets beer-based drinks that also contain caffeine, such as the malt-liquor energy drink Four Loko.
Some universities also have banned boozy energy drinks from campus while the federal Food and Drug Administration reviews their safety, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called Wednesday for a ban in his state.
Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who requested Washington’s ban, said a strong caffeine-and-alcohol combination could encourage drinking too much by masking alcohol’s regular depressant effects. She said alcohol-based energy drinks – sometimes fruit-flavored, often sold in brightly colored cans – are too appealing to young drinkers.
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“It’s no different than the kind of appeal that Joe Camel had to our kids when it came to cigarettes,” she said Wednesday.
Alcoholic energy drinks drew national attention after an October party in Roslyn. Nine Central Washington University students who drank Four Loko were hospitalized with blood-alcohol levels ranging from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent, and a female student nearly died. A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.30 percent is considered potentially lethal.
Washington’s ban covers products that combine beer, strong beer or malt liquor with caffeine, guarana, taurine or similar substances found in energy drinks.
Washington’s beer and wine distributors were troubled by the quick effective date. They had hoped the state Liquor Control Board would give the industry a month to make the change.
Lobbyists for the Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association said the ban would affect about $3 million worth of products already in stores.
Washington’s ban is good for 120 days, but could be made permanent by the state Liquor Control Board or the Legislature.