Caffeinated alcoholic drink sold online
Four Loko, a hyper-intoxicating caffeinated alcoholic beverage that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called a public health concern in 2010 and which was subsequently banned in several states, is now available on China's online shopping platforms.
Four women in their 20s in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province, who passed out in a karaoke lounge after trying the drink did not realize that they had been robbed until the police arrived, Yangtze Evening Post reported Wednesday.
Their escapade is only the latest headline-making experiment with shishenjiu, Four Loko's infamous Chinese nickname, which roughly translates to "rape liquor."
Phusion Projects, the manufacturer of Four Loko, received a warning letter from the FDA in 2010 that called their products a "public health concern" that would not be permitted to stay on the market without substantial modification, according to CNN.
In its letter, the FDA said peer-reviewed studies suggest the consumption of beverages containing caffeine and alcohol is associated with risky behavior that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations.
Phusion later agreed to lower the level of caffeine in the beverage, The Atlantic reported in 2014.
"I had it in undergrad, and it was, like, $2 a can," a U.S. citizen from the state of Georgia told the Global Times on Monday, noting that Four Loko is now illegal in the state.
A customer service employee at the Four Loko flagship store on tmall.com, an online shopping platform owned by the Alibaba Group, told the Global Times on Monday, "The level of caffeine is lower in the drink due to China's food safety standards, though the high remains the same because we put in stimulants like guarana and taurine."
When asked if it is safe to drink Four Loko, the employee said, "It is the drinker who should be liable for the consequences, not the product."
However, a customer service representative with the self-proclaimed official website of Four Loko in China told the Global Times that their products contain no guarana or taurine and the amount of caffeine in the beverage has been reduced.
The products are evaluated under U.S. food safety standards rather than under those of the China Food and Drug Administration, said the staffer, adding that "the products are all imported from the U.S."
A staff member at the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment confirmed on Monday that the center has not conducted an examination of Four Loko's content.
Two different stores on Taobao, another major Chinese online shopping platform owned by Alibaba, have sold a combined total of more than 15,000 cans of Four Loko as of press time on Monday.
Employees of the two stores - one of which is based in Shanghai and the other in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province - denied that there was any caffeine or stimulants in the beverage, saying it is just "fruit-flavored beer with 12 percent alcohol [by volume]."
Prices for Four Loko on Taobao and tmall.com vary from 33 yuan ($5) to 100 yuan per can, though searches for the beverage on both sites returned no results later on Monday.