TRENTON, N.J. – It's cheap, it comes in tall cans, and it contains caffeine, other common energy-drink ingredients — and as much alcohol as four beers.
After students at northern New Jersey's Ramapo College were hospitalized last month after drinking Four Loko, the college president ordered that it and similar drinks be banned — and he's encouraging other colleges and the state to follow suit.
"There's no redeeming social purpose to be served by having the beverage," President Peter Mercer told The Associated Press on Monday.
Robert Black, a customer chatting with the clerk at a liquor store near the beach in Atlantic City, explained how a 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko can come in handy. "If you only got $2 and you need to get drunk, this is what you get," he said.
This is not a rum and Coke.
"These products have higher levels of alcohol content in them, higher levels of caffeine in them," said Steven Schmidt, a spokesman for the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. "There's a lot of concern about whether combining these two is a good idea."
Mercer, whose college is a state-run liberal arts school in the New York City suburb of Mahwah, has quickly emerged as a major opponent of the products.
He said he'll do what he can to push New Jersey lawmakers to pass a bill introduced by Republican Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini that would ban the drinks — a step that other states have not taken, though a handful have taken action to limit access.
The drinks have taken off in popularity this fall on college campuses, Schmidt said. And more states have been considering how to handle them.
This month, regulators in Michigan launched a review of the drinks' labels. Those that don't clearly show the percentage of alcohol, a depressant, and stimulants could be taken off shelves in the state. Other states, including Montana and Utah, have taken measures to restrict access to the drinks.
The federal Food and Drug Administration is looking into whether the drinks are safe, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is pushing the Federal Trade Commission to investigate their marketing.
Ramapo's Mercer announced the campus ban, which took effect Oct. 1, after 23 intoxicated students were hospitalized over the span of a few weeks — some after drinking Four Loko. Mercer said that's more hospitalizations than the college usually sees at the start of the school year.
He believes students consume more of the drink than they do of other forms of alcohol because it's designed to go down easily. What's more, he said, high school students also were getting their hands on it.
Such drinks started appearing about five years ago. But the concept has a longer history: Soon after high-caffeine energy drinks like Red Bull started appearing in the U.S. in the late 1990s, people started mixing them with vodka and other alcoholic beverages.
But the new concoctions come in fruity flavors. Joose, made by United Brands Co., of La Mesa, Calif., comes in watermelon, among other flavors; and Four Loko, made by Phusion Projects Inc., of Chicago, is available in several varieties, including fruit punch and blue raspberry.
Neither company returned calls about the Ramapo ban, and websites for both companies say they don't intend to sell the colorful cans to anyone under 21.
Two years ago, the biggest companies to produce the drinks — Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and MillerCoors LLC — stopped selling them under pressure from several states and federal regulators.
Associated Press writer Wayne Parry in Atlantic City contributed to this report.
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