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Proposed Ban On Alcoholic Energy Drinks Advances

Legislators voted to advance a bill banning the sale of alcohol-laced energy drinks, saying the dangerous beverages remain on store shelves despite federal warnings.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Legislators voted Thursday to advance a bill banning the sale of alcohol-laced energy drinks in South Carolina, saying the dangerous beverages that can leave users "wide-awake drunk" remain on store shelves despite federal warnings.

Though the warned companies say they've stopped producing the mix, supplies remain.

The proposal would bar the production and distribution of beverages such as Joose and Four Loko, nicknamed "blackout in a can," that generally are 9 percent or 12 percent alcohol-by-volume and up to 32 ounces each. That compares to 4 percent alcohol for a regular 12-ounce beer.

At least four states have already banned the drinks.

"You could make the case that it's a six-pack in a can," Kristy Stoneburner of Lexington-Richland Alcohol And Drug Abuse Council told members of a House panel, before they voted unanimously to send the bill to the full Judiciary Committee.

Law enforcement officers said the drinks' colorful graphics, easy access, fruity flavors, and quick buzz make them especially appealing to teens and young adults, noting police find them at the vast majority of underage parties they break up.

Teens are "trying to drink four in an hour," said Capt. Ed Corey of the Kershaw County Sheriff's Office.

Proponents of the bill also said people are more likely to drive after consuming alcoholic energy drinks because the caffeine makes them feel less drunk.

In November, federal authorities issued warning letters to manufacturers of the beverages, saying the combination of caffeine and alcohol is dangerous and causes users to become "wide-awake drunk." Evidence has shown their consumption has led to alcohol poisoning, car accidents and assaults, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said at the time.

The four companies decided to pull their beverages from stores or reformulate them to remove caffeine or other stimulants after the FDA's ruling. Under pressure from states' attorneys general, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors removed their Bud Extra, Tilt and Sparks drinks from the market two years ago.

But Rep. Laurie Funderburk, D-Camden, argued alcoholic energy drinks are still easily accessible. To prove her point, she set bags of them on the table, which her intern had bought at two convenience stores in Columbia on her way into work.

Devon O'Neill, 22, said Joose was in the refrigerated section at her first stop, and when she went to pay, the clerk asked if she was looking for Four Loko. While they couldn't have it on the shelves, they still had plenty in the back, the clerk offered. So O'Neill bought two. At the other store, she bought them off the shelves, she said.

A state law would be easier to enforce than going through the FDA, Funderburk said.

Her bill would fine offenders between $100 and $500 and imprison them between 30 days and six months. They also would lose their license to sell alcohol for two years.

On another issue before the subcommittee on alcohol permits, Republicans argued it was an example of government intrusion into citizens' lives.

But banning the alcoholic energy drinks is different, because it's about public safety, said subcommittee chairman, GOP Rep. Thad Viers of Myrtle Beach. While the drinks could be akin to cocktails of Red Bull and vodka, he said, the popular combination's not pre-mixed in 23.5 ounces on store shelves.

"Clearly this will lead to more deaths on the highway," Viers said.
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