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Settlement restricts marketing of Four Loko

The maker of Four Loko, the malt liquor beverage that once was made with caffeine, on Tuesday agreed to sharply curb its marketing of the fruit-flavored drinks as part of a legal settlement with 20 state attorneys general, including Washington’s and Idaho’s, and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

The settlement comes nearly four years after Phusion Projects, based in Chicago, voluntarily removed caffeine from its drinks in 2010, shortly before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration definitively banned the stimulant as an ingredient in alcoholic beverages.

“This is an important step toward ending the irresponsible marketing of alcohol to young people,” Herrera said in a statement. “I’m grateful that we were able to get this industry leader on the same page with consumer protection offices … The result will be better-informed consumers and a safer, healthier marketplace.”

Four Loko beverages are sold in tall, brightly colored cans and come in a variety of fruit flavors. They have been blamed in scores of deaths and hospitalizations of young people since they were introduced in 2005. According to the Washington attorney general’s office, in 2010, nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko at a party. In recent years, several states banned the sale of the beverage.

The FDA eventually pointed to studies highlighting the danger of ingesting drinks that combine caffeine and alcohol. Researchers said the effects of the caffeine masked extreme intoxication among consumers.

Tuesday’s settlement is far-reaching. Under the terms of the agreement, the company cannot promote Four Loko on college campuses and is forbidden from hiring actors under the age of 25 or who appear to be under 21 to promote its products.

The company also agreed to pay $400,000 to each of the states involved in the settlement.