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Mass. moves to restrict Four Loko sales

November 16, 2010

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BOSTON—Massachusetts liquor regulators are preparing to file an emergency regulation to redefine malt beverages in an effort to restrict sales of stimulant-packed alcoholic drinks, including Four Loko and its variants that have been banned in four states.

Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission chairwoman Kim Gainsboro says her agency will file the new rules on Monday, a move that will effectively control sales of malt beverages containing alcohol, caffeine or any other herbal or chemical stimulant.

Under the plans, the manufacturing and importation of the beverages will have to cease.

Four Loko is made by Chicago-based Phusion Projects. The popular drink comes in several varieties, including fruit punch and blue raspberry. A 23.5-ounce can has an alcohol content of 12 percent, comparable to four beers.

The Massachusetts liquor regulator says classifying the drinks as malt beverages "may be misleading consumers about the true contents of the products being sold."

"The emergency regulation clarifies that no malt beverages can be sold in Massachusetts if they include alcohol, caffeine, guarana, taurine, gingko biloba, ginseng, or other herbal stimulant or chemical stimulant," the commission said late Monday.

The new rule will ban sales of the beverages and require manufacturers to relabel and repackage the drinks in re-sealable containers. The drinks also would no longer be available from vendors selling wine and malt beverages.

The commission is still reviewing how it's going to handle drinks that are on the shelves in a way that "minimizes the impact to the industry while making sure we protect the consumers," Gainsboro said in a telephone interview.

Phusion Projects says it is disappointed by the Massachusetts announcement, saying curbing alcohol abuse will not succeed by singling out a single beverage category.

"People have safely combined caffeine and alcohol for years: rum and colas, Red Bull and vodkas and Irish coffees are standard fare in bars and restaurants everywhere," Phusion Projects said in a statement released late Monday.

"No one is more upset than we are when our products are abused or used illegally, and we do everything in our power to prevent the sale of our products to anyone under the age of 21 and to educate consumers about how to enjoy them responsibly," the firm said. "In fact, Four Loko has roughly the same alcohol content as some craft beers or wine, and far less alcohol by volume than hard liquor. A can of Four Loko also has roughly the same amount of caffeine as a tall Starbucks coffee."

Still, that has not been enough to placate authorities.

The popular drinks have been banned in Washington, Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma.

The plan to restrict sales of the drink was first reported by WBZ-TV.