CHICAGO (CBS) — Two top Chicago aldermen have proposed a ban on the sale of alcoholic energy drinks that have come under intense scrutiny lately after nine college students in Washington State were hospitalized after drinking them at an off-campus party.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who chairs the Finance Committee, and Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), who chairs the License Committee, want to cut off the sale of drinks that contain a mix of high alcohol content and high caffeine levels.
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Medical efforts have warned that drinking such a combination of alcohol and caffeine can mask the effects of liquor, making it hard for drinkers to know how intoxicated they are.
“It is a dangerous cocktail which can lead to dangerous situations for young people who may be totally unaware of how inebriated they have become in such a short period of time,” Burke said.
“Quite frankly, I think it is completely irresponsible to manufacture and market a product that can make young people so intoxicated, so fast,” Schulter said.
The aldermen noted that both Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors stopped making such products two years ago amid health concerns.
If the proposed ban is approved by the City Council, individuals could be fined $100 to $500 for selling such drinks. Repeat offenders could have their liquor licenses suspended or revoked.
Several states are considering outlawing the drinks and at least two universities have banned them from campus while the Food and Drug Administration reviews their safety.
Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna called for the drinks to be banned and sent a letter to the FDA on Monday, saying the drinks “present a serious threat to public health and safety.”
The issue received new attention after the Oct. 8 party in Roslyn, a picturesque mountain town known as the place where part of the 1990s television series “Northern Exposure” was filmed.
Police first responded to a report of an unconscious female in a grocery store parking lot and learned about the party from her friends. At the home, officers found a chaotic scene, with students from nearby Central Washington University passed out and so intoxicated that investigators thought they had overdosed on drugs.
Nine students who drank a caffeinated malt liquor called Four Loko were hospitalized with blood-alcohol levels ranging from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent, and a female student nearly died, CWU President James L. Gaudino said. A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.30 percent is considered potentially lethal.
All the hospitalized students were inexperienced drinkers — freshmen ranging in age from 17 to 19. Toxicology results showed no drugs in their bloodstreams, though a small amount of marijuana was reported at the party, university police Chief Steve Rittereiser said.
Some students admitted drinking vodka, rum and beer with Four Loko, which is made by Phusion Projects Inc., of Chicago.
Phusion has said that people have consumed caffeine and alcohol together safely for years. The company said it markets its products responsibly to those of legal drinking age and shares with college administrators the goal of making campuses safe and healthy environments.
The FDA sent a warning letter to Phusion Products in November 2009 asking the company for information that shows adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages is safe, and the case remains open.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.