Recently, the Michigan Liquor Control Board banned nearly 55 alcoholic drinks containing caffeine, including the popular drink Four Loko. The ban comes on the coattails of the Oct. house party in Roslyn, Wash., where nine Central Washington University students were rushed to the hospital after police arrived to break up the party. Though the students were originally thought to have been given Rohypnol (commonly known as “roofies”), it was later determined that they had instead consumed large amounts of alcohol, including Four Loko.
Since that time, the drink has been attacked by everyone from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to media outlets across the country. Liquor stores have 30 days to get Four Loko and the 54 other banned drinks off their shelves. The FDA has also been looking into the health risks presented by the drinks.
The decision to ban these drinks seems rash. Instead of considering strengthening the laws on buying for minors, or creating legislation that requires universities to educate students about the uses and misuses of alcohol, the state has decided to ban products because it is in the news now and it appears to be a solution to the problem.
Blaming the product, rather than the causes for misusing the product, seems like an extreme shift. Banning Four Loko does not solve the problem of underage drinkers abusing alcohol, no more than banning a particular type of cigarette would stop a smoker from smoking. According to a Nov. 5 Los Angeles Times article, the students at CWU “became sick after consuming the drink along with pills and other alcoholic beverages.” Clearly, the issue here is abusing drugs and alcohol, not just Four Loko.
Many health officials say that the combination of caffeine and alcohol is dangerous, because the addition of caffeine prevents the drinker from realizing how intoxicated he or she has become. It seems these health officials are either unaware of or choosing to ignore the fact that combining a caffeinated beverage with an alcoholic one is a time-tested formula for a decent drink. So far, they’ve not proposed banning drinks like Jager Bombs and vodka and Red Bulls from being served in bars, but perhaps that’s just around the corner.
Experts claim that Four Loko is marketed to minors because of its fruity flavors and its colorful packaging. No one seems to be pointing out to them that there’s at least half a dozen products that do not contain caffeine that also have fruity flavors and colorful packaging –– Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff’s Grand Cosmopolitan and Twisted Tea are just a few of the many drinks that employ “fruity flavors” and “colorful packaging.” If that was all it took for a minor to want some alcohol, then clearly there’s a bigger underage drinking problem than we thought.
The health of college students across the state and the country is, of course, always a concern. But that starts with education, not at the consumer level. College students are going to drink. If it’s not Four Loko, it will be something else. Now that the state has banned Four Loko and other energy and alcohol combination drinks, those college students are going to have to turn to other alcohol. Three years from now, will the state decide to ban the next drink of choice by college students? Perhaps it’ll be malt liquor beverages like Bull Ice or Steel Reserve. Maybe it’ll be the banning of all Five O’Clock products, perhaps their very cheap vodka pints.
The truth of the matter is what happened at Central Washington University is unfortunate, and I don’t think anyone is denying that. But many of the attendees of the party that night were between the ages of 17 and 19, mostly college freshman, inexperienced with alcohol and shouldn’t have had access to an alcoholic beverage in the first place. According to a statement by Phusion Projects, the manufacturer of Four Loko, there are seven warnings on each and every Four Loko can about buying underage and the importance of identification.
Four Lokos contain 12 percent alcohol and the caffeine equivalent of one cup of coffee in a 23.5 ounce can. The danger here is not the product; the danger is the abuse of the product. Instead of banning these drinks, we need to make sure that people under 21 realize the dangers of abusing alcohol.
The only way for that to happen is for both the FDA and the state of Michigan to realize that quick-fix solutions are not the answer. We need to educate these students and find a way for them to learn the dangers of misusing alcohol. Until then, all the state and the FDA are doing is putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.