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Originally published Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 4:00 PM

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Time to scrutinize caffeinated booze

The Food and Drug Administration is investigating the safety and legality of caffeinated alcoholic beverages. About 30 manufacturers of the drinks are part of the federal scrutiny.

THE U.S. Food and Drug Administration's investigation into caffeinated alcoholic beverages throws a much-needed spotlight on the drinks' lack of safety and illegal sale to minors.

Super-caffeinated alcoholic concoctions are marketed to young people under names such as "Max Fury" or "Joose." These drinks are intended to capitalize on the popularity of energy drinks such as Red Bull. But adding alcohol and marketing the drinks to minors crosses the line.

The role of the FDA is appropriate. Scientists and medical experts argue that adding caffeine and other stimulants to alcoholic beverages poses serious public-health risks. Nearly a third of U.S. college students use drinks that combine caffeine and alcohol, according to one of the few federal studies on the drinks.

Under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, purposely adding a substance to food — for example, caffeine in alcoholic beverages — is unlawful unless it has been federally approved or is generally recognized as safe. Caffeine in alcoholic beverages has not received FDA approval. The FDA has only approved adding caffeine to soft drinks.

Now manufacturers of caffeinated alcohol are on notice to produce within weeks evidence of their drinks' safety. This federal spotlight ought to discourage more than a few to simply cease making these types of drinks.

Some already have stopped. Last year, Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna, joining with 24 other attorneys general, successfully pressed MillerCoors Brewing to drop Sparks Red, a caffeinated alcoholic drink.

The same year, investigations were launched into MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, major producers of other such drinks. The companies discontinued their caffeinated alcoholic beverages — Tilt and Bud Extra — and agreed to not produce similar drinks in the future.

Good. These drinks are marketed in ways meant to appeal to people under the legal drinking age of 21.

Internet commercials include music downloads and unverified claims about the health effects of the drinks. One commercial slogan was, "You can sleep when you're 30" and "You'll last longer than most Hollywood marriages."

The FDA's scrutiny should lead to a ban on these drinks.

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