Markets comply with OLCC 'alco-pop' ban

Though they haven't been notified by the state yet, area markets quickly pulled caffeinated booze drinks off shelves when they learned from the media that the so-called "blackout drinks" were banned.

Market managers had nothing good to say about the beverages, which are about as alcoholic as wine. They said they had them off shelves by Monday.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, in a special Saturday session, voted 4-1 to ban the controversial "alco-pop" after several young people had to be taken to emergency rooms in Washington state with alcohol poisoning and the federal Food and Drug Administration told an Oregon firm Wednesday to stop making them.

The ban will be effective until May 18, giving the OLCC time to discuss permanent rules on alcoholic energy drinks.

"We pulled Four Loko when we saw it on the news Sunday," said Terry Allphin, manager of Food 4 Less in Medford. "They're aimed mainly at kids in their 20s and transient types because of the high alcohol, up to 12 percent."

Food 4 Less will continue to carry high-caffeine energy drinks, such as Red Bull, which are "very popular," but "we even try to limit those and not sell them to kids under 16, even though we don't have to (limit sales)," Allphin said. "We're not going to sell a six-pack of energy drinks to a grade-school kid."

Noting that there has been no research on health risks for alco-pop, OLCC Chairman Phil Lang said in a news release he's working with "moderation" groups, researching laws of other states and exploring possible legislation regulating alco-pop.

"Yes, we carried it, but we pulled it off the shelves when we saw it on the news," said Eric Chaddock, manager of Shop 'n Kart in Ashland. "That was the first notification we got. The demographic for it — I don't know, but (drinking) it doesn't sound like a good call."

Mike Hansen, manager of Market of Choice in Ashland, said the store never carried it "because we don't want to support any alcohol that seems geared toward under-aged drinking."

Although many tavern drinks — such as Irish coffee — mix alcohol and caffeine, the FDA said caffeine is an unsafe food additive.

In a Nov. 17 letter to Charge Beverages of Lake Oswego, the FDA said the firm's Core High Gravity HG Green (and Orange), Lemon Lime Core Spiked and El Jefe are "adulterated" foods because of the added caffeine and that the sale or marketing of them "may constitute an unfair or deceptive act or practice in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act."

The FDA sent the warning to three other companies making the drinks, in which caffeine and alcohol are blended with a sugary array of fruit flavors.

The FDA cited concerns about clear promotion of the drinks to college-age populations and said, based on present research, that combining alcohol and caffeine "may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations" because caffeine counteracts some, but not all, of alcohol's adverse effects.

"Because caffeine alters the perception of alcohol intoxication, the consumption of pre-mixed products containing added caffeine and alcohol may result in higher amounts of alcohol consumed per drinking occasion, a situation that is particularly dangerous for naive drinkers," according to the FDA website.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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