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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 11/18/2010

Spirits: Saved from the scourge of Four Loko

By Jason Wilson

Caption. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Well, thank God the FDA and FTC have stepped in and saved society from the Four Loko menace! Don't you feel much safer now? I mean, just this morning, I was already feeling so secure as I ate my barely cooked eggs (along with a side of Walmart-bought deli ham) and played Mortal Kombat with my 8-year-old. So it made me feel even better to know that our government is on top of sickly-sweet caffeinated alcoholic beverages served in tall boys. Four Loko quickly announced something to the effect of "Fine, We'll Take The Caffeine Out. Happy Now?"

As many know, the Four Loko backlash began after nine students at Central Washington University drank themselves cheaply and quickly into the hospital. Washington state quickly banned alcoholic energy drinks, which of course set off a buying spree among college students there. From there, the federal government felt moved to act, with regulators calling products like Four Loko a "blackout in a can."

Personally, I've had the displeasure of tasting a few cans of Four Loko, in the name of research, and think it's gross. But it's no more digusting than, say, Crunk Juice -- that cocktail of cognac and energy drink that's been popular since the early 2000s. I would ban both from my house, or my bar or restaurant (if I owned one). Still, I hardly think a few stupid college students drinking themselves sick seems grounds to ban the whole product. Some of the university students I teach love Four Loko, and no harm seems to come to them. Meanwhile, I've seen plenty of people -- young and old -- drink themselves into trouble on many many other things. In those cases, you can reasonably call vodka or Jagermeister "a blackout in a bottle." Should we ban vodka or Jagermeister?

A few readers of the Food section think that the government should not be involved in telling Americans what they can and cannot drink. To quote one from today's Free Range chat:

So will the FDA ban Irish coffees and similar drinks? What will clubs do that cater to the Gray (sic) Goose bottle service along with Red Bull do? I can't have a cognac with my coffee? Someone [needs] to investigate this nanny statism gone amuck. What an overeaction! Someone needs to get Chuckie Schumer drunk! Back in the good ole days ie late 70's you went to Shoppers and picked up a few gallons of fruit punch and then to the ABC store for some Everclear. 190 or whatever proof. It worked. Chicks got drunk. Better then (sic) Delta punch from Animal House.

Ok, so maybe that's not the best argument against the ban on Four Loko -- in fact, it's a frighteningly terrible argument. So I'll let Phusion Products, who produces Four Loko, make its own case:

We are taking this step after trying — unsuccessfully — to navigate a difficult and politically-charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels. ... We have repeatedly contended — and still believe, as do many people throughout the country — that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. ... If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced. ... By taking this action today, we are again demonstrating leadership, cooperation and responsible corporate citizenship.

Yes, I don't know about you, but I always equate Four Loko with "responsible corporate citizenship."

Grub Street Boston, channeling the voice of a college student, made perhaps the most compelling case against the FDA's ban.

Here's why this is a bad idea, guys. First off, history shows that forbidden fruits are always more appealing. Boom. Second, if Four Loko isn't going to come in a can, how are we supposed to insert it into our classroom cup-holders? If we get, like, tired during class we are going to learn less, obviously. That's just science.

It's just, like, can everyone stop being so uncool about this, please?

Some have suggested that this sounds a lot like the arguments people made in the early 20th century, leading up to Volstead Act, which ushered in Prohibition.

What, dear readers, do you think about the scourge of alchoholic energy drinks?

-- Jason Wilson

Wilson is the author of "Boozehound" (Ten Speed Press, 2010). He can be reached at jasonwilson.com. Follow him on Twitter.

By Jason Wilson  | November 18, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Spirits  
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Comments

FDA Warns Makers of Alcoholic Energy Drinks
The Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters Wednesday to four manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks often consumed by college students, saying the caffeine added to their beverages is an "unsafe food additive. http://www.newslook.com/videos/267206-fda-warns-makers-of-alcoholic-energy-drinks?autoplay=true

Posted by: dbmetzger | November 18, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you had done any research before writing this article you would have seen that it is not simply mixing alcohol and caffeine. It is the AMOUNT of alcohol and caffeine that is in this drink. Four Loko has the equivalent alcohol level as a bottle of wine and the caffeine of 3-4 cups of coffee. You can no more compare Four Loko to an Irish coffee than an apple to an onion. Yes, vodka is "black out in a bottle", but when was the last time you chugged a bottle of vodka then a couple redbull?!?!?! You DONT, you CANT, it is not possible.
This is a terrible product that is marketed towards underage drinkers. It is marketed to be consumed quickly without tasting how much alcohol is in it. Then, because of the stimulants you cannot feel the affects of the drink, which in turn makes you think that you can drink more. Taking this off the market is protecting YOUR child, sibling, friend from the things that can come from consuming this drink.

Posted by: by0321 | November 18, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

The commment beginning DO YOUR RESEARCH above is quite flawed. Along with Phusion Projects, the FDA sent a letter to the maker of Moonshot, a beer with the equivalent caffeine of half a cup of coffee in it. The FDA informed this company that mixing alcohol and caffeine was dangerous and that it would have to stop producing its beer. Thus the FDA's actions have nothing to do with the quantity or concentration of caffeine/alcohol.

Countelss college students get alcohol poisoning every year from good old spirits, the makers of which shameless market their products to underage buyers using colorful advertizemets at bus stops, TV commercials, internet banners, etc. etc. Of course, administrators enjoy their after work Tanqueray martini far too much to deal with this reality. This is probably positive as people seem to work it out for themselves if left to their own devices.

Four Loko is an easy target, consumed almost exclusively by college age drinkers and heavily abused because of its low price. The alcohol is the problem, and has always been, not the caffeine. If anything the caffeine moderates some of the drunkenness. The overriding reality though, is that government regulation of substances have been a colossal failure. If many people consume something with little to no adverse effects, while some consume in excess to the point at which they find themselves in a medical facility, it does not follow that no one should be allowed to consume the substance. The FDA should stay out of business' hair in this case.

Posted by: elfark87 | November 19, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

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