State allows shops refunds of alcoholic energy drinks

RALEIGH State Alcoholic Beverage Commission Chairman Jon Williams said the panel on Thursday approved an exception allowing retailers to get a refund on drinks their wholesalers will take back.

Williams says it will be up to wholesalers to decide whether to provide refunds, and that could depend on what manufacturers do.

"It's going to be a very complicated process to actually take it out of the marketplace, but we expect that that can be accomplished over the course of the next several days," NC ABC Commission Chairman John Williams said.

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration announced a crackdown on four manufacturers of the controversial drinks. The FDA says caffeinated alcohol products like Four Loko must be out of retail stores nationwide in 15 days.

The government could eventually seize the products if the companies continue to make and market them.

Representatives of several business organizations that deal with the products attended Thursday's meeting and said the cooperation between state and federal agencies to ban the drinks has been unprecedented.

However, the state health director says the products can't disappear soon enough.

"College students who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks have a significantly higher prevalence of serious alcohol related consequences such as being taken advantage of sexually or taking advantage of someone else sexually, riding with a drunken driver and being physically injured compared to students who drink alcohol alone," NC Health Director Dr. Jeffrey Engel said.

Meanwhile, as word of the federal ban spreads, Four Loko lovers are apparently stocking up.

Convenience stores across the nation are reporting record sales and expect the trend to continue for the next two weeks.

"I expect people for the next 15 days for something with 12 percent alcohol in it to go and try to grab as much as they can," store owner Taz Zarka said. "If this is going to be the law, it's the law. We have to implement it and the sooner is the better. I get my deliveries every Thursday so I'm going to request the supplier to pick up next Thursday."

Zarka owns several convenience stores in downtown Raleigh. He thinks Four Loko fans will simply concoct their own alcoholic energy drinks after the ban.

In the meantime, a representative for the company that makes Four Loko told the commission Thursday morning that the feds have approved a new formula for the drink.

To prevent future issues with such products, the commission has also proposed a new rule that requires disclosure of stimulant levels on beverage labels.

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