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Energy Drinks and Alcopops

I enjoyed reading this long article on alcoholic energy drinks, written by Kit Stolz for the Ventura County Reporter.

After reading the long report about the sales, marketing, and consumer base of "alcopops" - caffeinated energy drinks- it seems to me that these are more like modern-day wine coolers, in a modern day world where young people probably consume five times as much caffeine as they did in the 1980's when wine coolers were all the rage. I'm not so sure that people who were sneaking Bartles & James peach coolers in high school should be rallying to ban Rockstar 21.

Here are some really great quotes from the story.

A counselor in San Diego gave a presentation to some teachers at a middle school, and went out at lunchtime and counted 12 students with alcoholic energy drinks. They didn’t need to conceal it because the adults didn’t even know these drinks existed.”

I think this is a very valid argument for better labeling of energy drinks- a big fat government warning sticker "Contains Alcohol" on these drinks wouldn't be such a bad thing, and would help adults and store owners better identify which items contain alcohol and which do not.

Now, about making them illegal entirely:

Under federal law, manufacturers must show that any substance deliberately added to a food or beverage sold in the United States must be “generally recognized as safe” (a standard known as GRAS). Mosher doubts that alcoholic energy drink manufacturers will be able to meet that test.

 “Under FDA rules, manufacturers have to establish before they put additives in any food or beverage that the products are safe,” he said, “But all the scientific studies we have seen say that it’s not safe.”

Mosher points to a study published last year by a doctor at Wake Forest, Mary O’Brien, which showed that college students who consumed alcoholic energy drinks had “a significantly higher prevalence of being taken advantage of sexually, taking advantage of someone else sexually, riding with a drunken driver, or being physically injured,” even in comparison to those who drank alcohol, but without caffeine.

I think this argument is weak and wrong. Separately alcohol and caffeine are regulated and approved, so is adding one to the other an unsafe additive? I think not. Nobody (yet) is advocating banning the combination of Red Bull and Vodka (or the Irish Coffee for that matter) when mixed together from separate containers. Putting them together in one drink seems efficient, if often a bad idea.

This I didn't know:

In a 2007 report for the Marin Institute, he and a co-author revealed that alcoholic energy drinks such as Tilt, Rockstar 21, and Sparks cost about 25 percent less than comparable nonalcoholic energy drinks such as Rockstar Juiced, Lost Energy and SoBe Adrenaline Rush.

But seems to support my existing belief that energy drinks are horrendously overpriced.

I think I am coming to the conclusion that more dramatic warning labels may be needed for alcopops, but I don't support a ban on them. The idea that these products are marketed to "children" I think is off-base. Can you say that extreme sports are marketed to children, or are they an adult activity that's exciting to younger people? Energy drinks in general take their marketing cues from extreme sports (heck, even Gatorade does) and so I think it's not exactly fair to claim that they're going for underage drinkers specifically. Maybe if there was an alcoholic energy drink that was labeled "Extreme Algebra" my opinion would change.

Overall you don't need to tempt underage people to try alcohol; they'll go out of their way to find it for themselves. The reasons for that have nothing to do with the existence of alcopops.

What do other people think? Are alcopops really a problem at all? Should we change the labeling, tax them as spirits (as a lot of legislation proposes), ban them outright?