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Opinion

Alcoholic energy drinks have no place in Tennessee

Alcoholic energy drinks are dangerous because stimulants such as caffeine can delay a person’s reaction to alcohol even as it poisons the body.
 
 Sen. Reginald Tate

You likely have seen drinks in convenience store shelves with high-powered names like “Four Loko,” “Torque” and “Tilt.” They often come in flashy cans designed to draw in teens and young adults. They are alcoholic energy drinks, which combine caffeine and other stimulants with alcohol – sometimes with deadly consequences.

Alcoholic energy drinks are dangerous because stimulants such as caffeine can delay a person’s reaction to alcohol even as it poisons the body. The stimulants include guarana, a Brazilian seed that contains twice as much caffeine as coffee, and taurine, the primary ingredient in popular energy drinks such as Red Bull.

The products have been popular with underage drinkers because of the delayed effects of alcohol and vendor confusion over ID requirements to purchase the drinks. But they have also been incredibly dangerous: Nine college students were hospitalized in Washington State after drinking Four Loko, which can contain as much alcohol in one can as five or six beers.

Four Loko also has been blamed for deaths in Florida and Maryland, where a 21-year-old crashed her car into a tree after drinking two cans of Four Loko.

At least six states have already banned the drinks, and some of the largest manufacturers have begun pulling their products from shelves across the country and reformulating the drinks after receiving a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration. But my colleagues and I want to ensure they stay out of Tennessee forever.

That’s why I’m sponsoring a bill to ban the sale of such drinks from bars and restaurants. State Sen. Roy Herron of Dresden, meanwhile, has a bill that would prohibit the production, sale and distribution of all alcoholic energy drinks. Each violation would carry a maximum $2,500 fine and up to nearly a year in prison.

Our legislation would not apply to flavored alcoholic beverages, such as beers brewed with coffee, or drinks mixed by a bartender. We are instead targeting products that have no redeeming qualities and recklessly endanger our children. Such drinks have no place in Tennessee, and I want to make sure that Tennessee stores have no place for them, either.

(Senator Reginald Tate represents portions of Memphis and Shelby County. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (615) 741-2509 or 320 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0033.)

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