NEW YORK—State Senator Jeff Klein released a report on Sunday regarding an undercover investigation of caffeinated alcoholic beverages being sold to minors.
The operation started in August in Westchester, when three young teenage girls were rushed to the emergency room after consuming cans of Four Loko. With the cooperation of the NYPD, an undercover police volunteer, a minor, was sent to 28 different stores and bodegas in the Bronx on Nov. 9. Eleven locations sold alcoholic beverages to the minor and were issued violations.
Caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) like Four Loko and Goose are being sold in 23.5-ounce cans and contain 12 percent alcohol.
“What this product poses is a state called ‘wide-awake drunk,’” Klein said. “You have all the symptoms of being intoxicated, but because of the caffeine, it wakes you up, causing you to drink more and making it much more likely that you’ll get behind the wheel of an automobile while still drunk. This product is also known as ‘blackout in a can.’”
Klein says it is obvious that the product is marketed toward minors. He is introducing legislation that will ban the sales, delivery, and gifting of CABs and make it illegal for companies to package the alcoholic beverages like energy drinks.
The Four Loko packaging looks strikingly similar to a can of Arizona iced tea, but contains as much alcohol as almost three cans of Bud Light, along with 156 milligrams of caffeine–more than the amount in an eight-ounce cup of coffee. The drink costs only about two dollars per can, cheaper than beer.
The state senator's bill would ban Four Loko and other similar drinks from being sold in the state of New York. The proposed legislation seeks to redefine beer not to include CABs, thus preventing them from being sold in convenience stores or bodegas. The bill would also raise the penalty for selling alcohol to minors from a class A misdemeanor, which includes a fine up to $1,000, to a class E felony, which comes with a fine up to $5,000 and/or a prison sentence of one to three years.
Klein's legislation further seeks to redefine CABs as drinks with alcohol content of 5 to 15 percent and more than six milligrams of caffeine per ounce. The sales of coffee-based liquors like Tia Maria and Kahlua, which typically have alcohol content of about 20 percent, would not be affected under this proposal.
Mike Jones, deputy CEO of the State Liquor Authority, said they have effectively come to an agreement with retailers and wholesalers of Four Loko to ban sales of the drink in New York. The wholesalers have also voluntarily agreed to donate some money to education, he added.
“There are no more orders being accepted. Four Loko will have until next Friday to deliver the product, sending the product to retailers, who have a limited time to sell the product,” Jones said.
Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington have already voted to ban the sales of CABs in their respective states. Washington state's ban will become effective starting on Nov. 18.