Amid Brewing Controversy, Four Loko Loses Its Buzz

Facing state bans and pressure from the FDA, Phusion Projects announced that it will remove caffeine and other stimulants from its popular Four Loko.

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Banned in the USA: Facing growing controversy and pressure from the FDA, the makers of Four Loko will remove caffeine.Facing increased pressure from critics, including an announcement by the FDA that so-called alco-pops are a "public health concern," the manufacturer of Four Loko says it will remove caffeine and other stimulants from its popular alcoholic energy drink.

The FDA recently warned that companies like Phusion Projects, the Chicago-based maker of Four Loko, would have 15 days to reformulate their products or face legal action. As a result, Phusion announced Tuesday that it will strip its controversial drinks of caffeine, guarana and taurine.

Just this week, the New York State Liquor Authority pressured Phusion to stop selling Four Loko to New York vendors, and Michigan, Utah, Washington and Oklahoma have banned the popular potable, which has been blamed in a number of deaths nationwide. Phusion's decision to remove caffeine is reminiscent of MillerCoors's move to reformulate its Sparks drink once it came under fire in 2008 for its combination of a depressant (alcohol) and stimulant (caffeine).

Despite Phusion's decision to remove caffeine, taurine and guarana from Four Loko, the company insists that mixing caffeine and alcohol is nothing new and not hazardous.

"We have repeatedly contended... that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe," Phusion's founders said in a statement. "If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced."

Indeed, Four Loko has been blamed for injuries and deaths, and one family has filed a lawsuit against Phusion after their son fatally shot himself after drinking two cans of Four Loko. Despite the safety concern and the flak the company is catching for its consumers' erratic and sometimes dangerous behavior, Phusion Projects' founders say it is not the alleged safety risk that convinced them to stop selling to New York vendors or reformulate its beverage.

"We want our company to be known for cooperation and collaboration, not controversy," Phusion co-founder and managing partner Jaisen Freeman said.

And though the drink has been flying off the shelves, New York bodega owners are happy to be rid of Four Loko.

For one, the margins were low. A 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko sells for $2 to $3, which means the convenience stores pocket only about 50 cents a can. Secondly, young drinkers under the influence of Four Loko tended to be, well, a bit loco.

"They use it and people go crazy," Mujab Rahman of East Village Convenience store in New York told the New York Daily News.

Four Loko is available in nine benign-sounding flavors like fruit punch, watermelon, lemonade, blue raspberry and grape, and is sold in colorful tallboy cans. It has 12 percent alcohol by volume, and drinking it is infamously likened to drinking several beers and two cups of coffee. The alco-pop is also known as "blackout in a can."

It is not known yet whether state bans on Four Loko will be lifted once Phusion removes caffeine from the drink.

Tags: alcohol energy drink, FDA, Four Loko ban, Four Loko caffeine, Four Loko controversy, Four Loko deaths, Four Loko FDA, Joose, News, Phusion Projects

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