[Update 3:30 p.m. November 8, 2010] Michigan's liquor police won't have any trouble getting Smirnoff Raw Tea off store shelves; the product from Smirnoff, whose slogan is "Be There," hasn't been there for a year.
Smirnoff parent Diageo said it took the product off the market for commercial reasons in 2009 and should not have been included in the Michigan Liquor Control Commission's ban last week of all alcohol-fueled energy drinks.
And besides, Diageo said, it never marketed Smirnoff Raw Tea as an energy drink, nor does it promote any of its products as having "energizing, stimulating or invigorating properties." Just the regular properties that alcoholic beverages have.
[Original post] Michigan's Liquor Control Commission has banned the sale of alcohol energy drinks such as Four Loko, the caffeine-enhanced brew that sickened nine Central Washington University students at a party last month.
The commission issued the ban Thursday and gave retailers 30 days to clear 55 named products from their shelves. Among the brand names are 808, Joose, Smirnoff Raw Tea and Max.
"The commission's concern for the health, safety and welfare of Michigan citizens and the fact that there is not enough research to validate that these products are safe for consumption has made me believe that until further research is done by the [Food and Drug Administration], they should no longer be on Michigan shelves," commission Chairwoman Nida Samona said in announcing the ban.
A typical can of alcohol energy drink is 24 ounces and has a 12 percent alcohol content, compared with a 12-ounce can of beer, which normally has an alcohol content of 4 percent to 5 percent, the commission said.
Four Loko maker Phusion Projects told the Chicago Tribune that its 23.5-ounce product contains about the same amount of caffeine as a Starbucks tall coffee.
The ban mentions other stimulants, including taurine, guarana, ginkgo biloba and ginseng.
Critics say that the stimulants keep drinkers from passing out, allowing individuals to drink to the point of poisoning themselves.
But Phusion Projects contends that people can easily mix caffeine into their alcoholic drinks themselves.
"People have safely combined caffeine and alcohol for years: rum and colas, Red Bull and vodkas and Irish coffees are standard fare in bars and restaurants everywhere," a company statement said.
Phusion Projects, based in Chicago, Illinois, noted that three of the liquor commission's five members took part in the vote and that only two of them voted for it. The company also complained it was not allowed to defend itself before the order was issued.
"The commission's precipitous and ill-conceived action, if allowed to stand, will adversely affect many businesses in Michigan, including ours, and will deprive the state of millions of dollars of tax revenue," Phusion Projects said.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board also recently proposed discouraging liquor distributors from handling alcohol-caffeine products.