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Consumer

California Assembly Bans Caffeine-Laced Beer Drinks

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Four Loko. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Four Loko. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

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SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — The California Assembly moved Monday to prohibit the production and sale of beer laced with caffeine and join other states concerned the beverages are aimed at young people and make it easy to drink too much.

The ban was approved on a 43-24 vote. It passed the state Senate in April but that chamber must now reconsider changes made by the Assembly before the bill can be sent to the governor.

The bill, SB39, would ban the import, production, distribution or retail sale of beer and related alcoholic beverages that have caffeine added. At least six other states have passed similar bans.

The measure by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, targets beverages that have been banned on some college campuses after incidents of alcohol poisoning and blackouts among students.

The drinks are often fruit-flavored and marketed in ways that appeal to young people. Studies have found that they’re often cheaper than energy drinks without alcohol, Padilla said after the vote.

“The added caffeine masks the effects of the high alcohol content, which can lead to binge drinking and dangerous behavior,” he said.

Opponents of the bill noted that college students under 21 who drink alcohol are already breaking the law, and that Irish coffee combines alcohol and caffeine but no one is proposing a ban on that drink.

No matter what the beverage, “if you drink enough of it, you’re going to pass out,” said Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton. “Is this really something that needs a state law?”

Nearly two dozen students at New Jersey’s Ramapo College were hospitalized in 2010 after drinking a malt beverage with caffeine and other ingredients commonly found in energy drinks.

Soon after, state regulators in Michigan began looking at whether the labels of the caffeinated beers adequately described how much alcohol and stimulants they contained. Federal regulators also have taken up the questions of the safety and marketing practices of the beverage makers, which sell drinks under brands such as Joose and Four Loko.

Critics of the drinks say some of the large, brightly colored cans have the drug content of five beers and a cup of coffee.

Some major brewery companies dropped the caffeinated brews in 2008 after regulatory pressure, but smaller companies stepped into the market void. Some of the current manufacturers have changed their drink formulas since they have become targets for scrutiny, while others have halted production.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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