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Alcoholic Energy Drinks Banned in Michigan and Washington

In the span of a week, both Michigan and Washington have banned alcoholic energy drinks. On November 4, 2010, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission issued an Administrative Order rescinding its approval of all alcoholic energy drinks, effectively banning them in the state of Michigan. Manufacturers have 30 days from the date of the Order to remove their products from Michigan stores. The ban covers a total of 55 drinks offered by nine different suppliers. According to supporters of the ban, the high alcohol content—around 12% for a 24-ounce can, compared to 4-5% for a 12-ounce beer—combined with flashy packaging, flavors such as grape and watermelon, low prices (around $2 to $5), and the combination of stimulants such as caffeine, taurine, and guarana, along with alcohol, make the drinks dangerous to teenagers and college-aged students. As the Commission’s news release stated, “The Commission believes the packaging is often misleading, and the products themselves can pose problems by directly appealing to a younger customer, encouraging excessive consumption, while mixing alcohol with various other chemical and herbal stimulants.”

On November 10, 2010, at the request of Governor Chris Gregoire, the Washington State Liquor Control Board approved an emergency rule banning the sale of alcoholic energy drinks. The emergency ban will remain in effect for 120 days, during which time the Liquor Control Board will work to make the ban permanent. The Washington ban was partially spurred by nine Central Washington University students who became ill after consuming alcoholic energy drinks. As Gov. Gregoire stated in the Liquor Control Board’s press release, “By taking these drinks off the shelves we are saying ‘no’ to irresponsible drinking and taking steps to prevent incidents like the one that made these college students so ill.”

Michigan and Washington are not the only states with some form of limitation on alcoholic energy drinks. Both Utah and Montana reclassified such beverages as liquor, thus restricting the locations where such items can be sold. In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would look into the health risks associated with caffeinated alcoholic beverages. The FDA has never approved caffeine as an additive to alcoholic beverages, although it has approved it as an additive to soft drinks. Beverages without FDA approval can still be lawfully marketed, but their use must be subject to a prior sanction or deemed Generally Recognized As Safe, or GRAS. Given the extensive media coverage surrounding beverages containing caffeine and alcohol, it appears likely that these products will continue to attract regulatory attention.

Alcohol.law Digest is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.


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