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Sanders wants to ban Four Loko alcoholic drink

City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) is calling for a ban of a controversial alcoholic energy drink that he says is too dangerous to put into the hands of anyone.

The councilman is urging New Yorkers who purchase the drink Four Loko, an alcoholic beverage that contains a powerful mix of caffeine and alcohol to be cautious because he claims it is not marketed correctly.

Sanders said he has received numerous complaints that the ingredients have triggered unhealthy side effects. Michigan has banned the drink outright and Four Loko has been blamed for sickening students on several college campuses.

“Anytime you take a stimulant, caffeine, and mix it with a depressant, alcohol, you rattle the nerves of your system,” he said.

Phusion Projects, the Chicago-based company that makes the drink, claims that the 23.5-ounce cans have 12 percent alcohol by volume — roughly the same amount of alcohol as wine and craft beers, but not as much as hard liquor. It also claims it has the same amount of caffeine as a “tall Starbucks coffee.”

In an e-mailed statement, Phusion said it has several warnings about the ingredients of its drinks and only sells it to adults.

“Our products are not energy drinks, as they’ve been called — and when consumed responsibly, Four Loko is just as safe as any other alcoholic beverage,” the company said.

Sanders said that although customers need to be over 21 and show proper identification to purchase Four Loko, it is still getting into the hands of youth. Because it is offered in flavors such as orange, fruit punch and cranberry, some store owners and kids mistake the drink for a tamer energy drink, according to the councilman.

“This drink is being focused on gullible youth and we have a responsibility to make people aware of what they are drinking,” he said.

Phusion defended the marketing of its product on its website.

“Flavored alcoholic beverages and brightly colored cans are nothing new; today bubble gum, raspberry and blueberry vodkas — which have several times the alcohol content of a Four Loko — are all on the market,” the company said.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing Phusion and other companies that produce alcohol-caffeine products to see if they pose any safety hazards. The agency does not regulate caffeinated alcoholic beverages presently, according to Phusion.

Sanders said he would wait for the FDA to conclude its investigation before working on a measure in the Council that would limit these drinks. He mentioned that the victim of a gay beating last month in the Bronx was allegedly forced to drink 10 cans of Four Loko during his violent ordeal.

“If this is a dangerous thing, we will go crazy over Four Loko. We will do everything possible to stop them,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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