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Aldermen propose banning alcohol-caffeine drinks

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The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing whether high-alcohol energy drinks like Four Loko drinks are safe for consumers.

Chicago would ban the sale of beverages that contain the potent mix of alcohol and caffeine, under a crackdown proposed Wednesday by a pair of influential aldermen.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) and License Committee Chairman Eugene Schulter (47th) are joining forces to cut off the sale of drinks young people use to give themselves a jolt.

Caffeinated alcoholic beverages are typically sold in 23.5-ounce cans and can pack the same punch as four-to-six beers and a cup of coffee.

Caffeine stimulates the system while alcohol depresses it. Medical experts have warned that the potent mix masks the effects of alcohol, making it difficult for young people to realize how intoxicated they are.

Two years ago, Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors stopped producing caffeinated alcoholic beverages, citing health concerns. Attorneys general from across the nation are urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review the safety of the drinks.

"If 18 attorneys general . . . feel that these are dangerous substances, why not put Chicago on the forefront of addressing these issues and banning it here- It could set a national trend," Burke said.

"Clearly, it's a threat to the health of young people who are apparently using them to induce a stupor. . . . When you see kids that are winding up in emergency rooms from drinking this concoction, it certainly should send a warning, especially to parents [who] might not be aware of this."

Schulter called it "unconscionable" that manufacturers would mix caffeine and alcohol, calling it a "toxic potion . . . that really can get people ill."

"Let's have hearings on this and see what the manufacturers are willing to do. . . . I'd like them to stop producing products that could be very hurtful," he said.

Schulter acknowledged that a statewide ban would be better. But, he said, "Maybe we can bring enough attention that other cities will follow suit."

The ordinance introduced at Wednesday's City Council meeting states, "No person shall sell, give away, barter, exchange or otherwise furnish any caffeinated alcoholic beverage."

Violators would face fines as high as $500 for each offense. Repeat violations would be grounds for suspending or revoking city licenses.

The ordinance applies only to caffeinated alcoholic beverages sold or distributed in cans or bottles. It does not prohibit bartenders from mixing Red Bull and booze at a bar, for example.

But, Burke said, "If somebody thinks that it ought to go farther, let's hear from them."