FDA ban on caffeinated malt liquor leads to spike in sales

    The Food and Drug Administration Wednesday sent warnings to four alcohol makers telling them to stop producing caffeinated malt liquors. The effective ban on the  fruit-flavored, highly alcoholic drinks led to a rush on beer distributors in Philadelphia, and left many suppliers in the city sold out.

    Erick Taing, manager at Stone’s Beverage Center in Fairmount, said they’ve had a stock of Four Loko, the most well-known of the drinks, around for a while. But an hour or two after the FDA announcement, it was gone.

    There’s a bare spot on the shelf waiting for a new shipment.

    “As soon as [the announcement] happened we’ve had college kids come in asking for it by the dozen,” Taing said Thursday.

    Taing said he has been getting calls from other stores in the area asking if he has any extra stock they could buy from him. And the store’s supplier said it’s had an unusually high number of requests, presumably from people trying to stock up before the drink is off the market.

    The maker of Four Loko said Tuesday it would remove caffeine from its product at the urging of regulators and the public.  College students from around the country, including at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, have landed in the hospital after binge drinking the 23.5-ounce cans.

    The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board asked beer distributors last month to pull caffeinated malt liquors off their shelves. But spokeswoman Stacey Witalec said the board doesn’t have regulatory control over these stores, so it’s glad the FDA is stepping in.

    “We’re very thankful for the FDA taking steps in making these products safe for people to consume,” Witalec said.

    Experts say the sugary-sweet flavor and caffeine in the drinks masks their high alcohol content, leading young drinkers to get too drunk too fast. State legislators have introduced a bill that would ban the sale of all caffeinated alcoholic beverages in Pennsylvania, but action might not be taken until the next legislative session.

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