Issue Report: Ban on caffeinated alcohol drinks

A number of caffeinated alcoholic drinks have surfaced between 2002 and 2010 on the market, and have proven very popular. They include Four Loco, Sparks, Moonshot, Hard Wired, Catalyst, and others (here’s a list). Four Loco has received particularly heavy attention. It is believed to contain caffeine equivalent to two-to-three cups of coffee and alcohol equivalent to four-to-five beers. This is all within a 24 ounce can that costs between $2.50 and $3. The drink has been abused by many young college binge drinkers, and resulted in dozens of hospitalizations and a couple of deaths. Opponents say that the caffeine masks the effects of the alcohol, making it possible for kids and others to get much more drunk without passing out or throwing up. The FDA, therefore, banned these kinds of drinks on November 13th, 2010. Opponents of the ban say that it represents government “nannying”, that “individual responsibility” can and should be relied upon with the drinks, and that the drinks can be consumed responsibly. These and other pro and con arguments and quotations from editorials and op-eds are outlined below.

Safety: Are caffeinated alcohol drinks unsafe?

Caffeinated alcohol drinks are generally unsafe.

Michigan’s liquor control commission banned the commercial sale of Four Loko and other alcoholic energy drinks in November of 2010, stating that they “pose serious health and safety risks to American youth, present a threat to the public health and safety.”[1]

Caffeinated alcohol drinks mask effects of alcohol.

Yakima Herald-Republic. October 27th, 2010

“Professor Ken Briggs, chairman of CWU’s Department of Physical Education, calls drinks like Four Loko ‘a binge-drinkers dream,’ as the caffeine and other stimulants enable drinkers to drink a lot without passing out or employing the body’s normal defenses against overindulging, such as vomiting or stumbling around.”

Caffeinated alcohol drinks have harmed lives/communities

"EDITORIAL: Ban Big-Bang Beer." The Columbian, Editorial. November 15 2010:

“The ravages of these high-octane mixtures of alcohol and caffeine have spread through Clark County. Local counselors say teenagers drink the stuff like soda, and consumption has increased greatly in recent months. In September, four teenagers were injured in a car crash after allegedly consuming caffeinated malt liquor. Also, an officer-involved fatal shooting of a 22-year-old man occurred after the war veteran had consumed as many as four cans of the stuff. We see no need to increase long-standing regulation of other alcoholic beverages. But when there are repeated instances of young people — in a matter of mere months — guzzling potentially deadly beverages, it’s time to take action. And the eagerness of the Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association to enact this ban further proves it’s the right thing to do.”

Not enough evidence that caffeinated alcohol drinks are safe.

Michigan Liquor Control Commission Chairwoman Nida Samona: “The commission’s concern for health, safety and welfare of Michigan citizens and the fact that there is not enough research to validate that these products are safe for consumption has made me believe that until further research is done by the FDA, they should no longer be on Michigan shelves.”

Too few have died from Four Loco to justify ban.

"Don't ban four loco in N.H." The New Hampshire, Editorial. November 12th, 2010:

“Banning Four Loko at any level, whether across campus or across the state, is a gross overreaction. First of all, of the millions of students enrolled in institutions of higher education, an incredibly small percentage has been hospitalized after consuming the beverage. Yes, a few have died. Unfortunately, college students die from alcohol poisoning every year. That would be happening without Four Loko.”

Combining caffeine and alcohol is nothing new.

"Don't ban four loco in N.H." The New Hampshire, Editorial. November 12th, 2010:

“Yes, the combination of caffeine and alcohol poses a situation somewhat different than just drinking a traditional alcoholic beverage. But it’s not as if no one thought to combine alcohol and caffeine. Ever heard of a Red Bull and Vodka or Irish coffee? Caffeine is legal. Alcohol is legal. How does legal plus legal equal illegal?”

Kids have been getting drunk for years; Four Loco nothing new

Washington Beer Blog. Seattle PI. Nov 18th, 2010:

“We’ve all heard the recent news about Four Loko, the highly alcoholic, caffeinated beverage-of-choice for people looking for a shortcut to inebriation. In case you’ve been living in a proverbial cave, here’s what happened. A bunch of college kids got wasted, not using beer bongs and Schlitz Malt Liquor, but using something called Four Loko. Some of these kids, including some underage drinkers, ended up in the hospital. That’s a drag, really it is; however, those college students did much more than simply get sick and wasted at a party. They let the cat out of the bag. You see, until that party in Roslyn, nobody knew that college kids like to get wasted. It was a well kept secret that many coeds are on a mission to find the shortest route to hammertown.”

Combination of caffeine/alcohol not inherently unsafe.

Editorial: "Public health, and a little public relations." MPN November 18th, 2010:

“the managing partners of the company that makes Four Loko told the Associated Press this week, ‘We have repeatedly contended — and still believe, as do many people throughout the country — that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe.'”

A bottle of liqueur is as dangerous as Four Loco.

"Banning alcoholic energy drinks is loco." USF Oracle. November 8th, 2010:

“Many complain that Four Loko’s 23.5 ounce can is too large to contain 12 percent alcohol and that it’s too dangerous to mix alcohol with ingredients like caffeine and guarana, which are the active ingredients in energy drinks. However, bottles of liquor can contain more than six times as much alcohol as Four Loko. Wine can easily contain just as much at 12 to 15 percent alcohol. Both come in much larger sizes.”

Responsibility: Can individual responsibility be trusted here?

Four Loco makes abuse far too easy.

Yakima Herald-Republic. October 27th, 2010:

“Reasons are many for the concern. Start with the potency: Four Loko is 12 percent alcohol, more than double that of mass-produced beer brands like Budweiser or Miller and well above the 7.5 percent of the imposing-sounding Foreign Extra Stout by Guinness and many IPAs. The servings are massive; one can of Four Loko contains 23.5 fluid ounces, about double the size of a standard beer can. So in terms of alcohol, a single can of Four Loko equals four or five cans of the usual stuff. Four Loko is among about two dozen products on the market that combine a stimulant with alcohol. The alcohol content is actually more like that of wine, whose alcohol levels run in the 11 percent to 13 percent range and whose normal bottle size is 25.4 ounces. So one can of Four Loko is like one bottle of your favorite chardonnay. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the stimulants that make the drinks so insidious, according to McKenna. The drinks contain a heavy dose of caffeine and fruity, sweet flavors to cover the taste of alcohol and make it go down easy. […] And the cost is a mere $2.50 a can; compare that to your favorite chardonnay or hard liquor of choice, or even a six-pack of beer. Four Loko is easily available at your local convenience store. Yes, alcohol of any sort can be abused — whether at a wine tasting or a hops festival — but the combination of all of the above simply makes it too easy. Sorry kids, this is different.”

Caffeine-alcohol drinks a public hazard, not just individual matter.

The idea that caffeine-alcohol drinks are a matter of individual responsibility, ignores that the drinks increase aggressive behavior, fights, date rape, and domestic abuse. And, a death or episode of alcohol poisoning has a negative impact on communities. So, this is a public health and safety issue, not just and individual responsibility issue.

One can consume caffeinated alcohol drinks responsibly

"Don't ban four loco in N.H." The New Hampshire, Editorial. November 12th, 2010:

“Let’s be clear. You can consume Four Loko responsibly. Taking a sip of the beverage doesn’t immediately turn you into an animal.”

Banning caffeine-alcohol drinks undermines personal responsibility.

USA Today reported Herman Harris, 27, of Baton Rouge, saying in November of 2010: “I don’t think it needs to be pulled off the market. I’m a 100% advocate for personal responsibility. You have to read the label. You can’t just load up and think it won’t do anything.”[2]

People can easily combine caffeine and alcohol on own.

"Banning alcoholic energy drinks is loco." USF Oracle. November 8th, 2010:

“After consuming alcohol, someone could easily drink coffee or an energy drink and experience effects similar to Four Loko. Mixed drinks such as Jager bombs — which mix Jägermeister and Red Bull — and Vodka and Red Bull are already popular choices, and have been for quite some time.”

Alcohol will always be abused; don't skapegoat Four Loko.

"Banning alcoholic energy drinks is loco." USF Oracle. November 8th, 2010:

“Regardless of its form, alcohol will always be abused by some individuals. Four Loko is just the latest victim to be dismissed by this reality, and it doesn’t warrant being banned on college campuses or anywhere else.”

Banning caffeine-alcohol drinks expands govt in lives.

"Banning alcoholic energy drinks is loco." USF Oracle. November 8th, 2010:

“In contemporary U.S. society, most commercials featuring alcoholic beverages come with a warning to ‘Drink Responsibly.’ Heeding this advice is the key, not more government control and intrusion in private citizens’ lives.”

Priorities: Is a ban an important priority?

Caffeinated alcohol drinks often advertised toward youth

"EDITORIAL: Ban Big-Bang Beer. All Business, Editorial. November 15 2010:

“marketing strategies of companies that sell these ‘blackout in a can’ products have been clearly offensive. Often the brightly colored cans of fruit-flavored danger are placed on shelves next to traditional energy drinks. [Washington Governor Chris] Gregoire correctly surmised: ‘It’s no different than the kind of appeal that Joe Camel had to our kids when it came to cigarettes.'”

More important priorities than banning alcoholic energy drinks.

"Don't ban Four Loko in H.H." The New Hampshire, Editorial. November 12, 2010:

“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Schumer can’t concentrate on more important topics; Four Loko should not be among a senator’s top priorities. Schumer’s involvement in the issue is similar to politicians bashing Facebook’s privacy policy. It’s good for some free PR. Try mounting a campaign against the Bush tax cuts, Mr. Schumer, or actually make progress against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Party enhancements: Do caffeine-alcohol drinks impair or enhance party?

Caffeinated alcohol drinks can easily ruin the party.

Caffeinated alcohol drinks, by masking the effects of alcohol, can easily cause a person to drink too much, and, therefore, result in a trip to the emergency room. This can ruin a party, embarrass individuals, scare the heck out of friends, and even result in death or permanent damage. None of this adds to the party.

Caffeinated alcohol drinks cause aggressive behavior.

These drinks have resulted in an increase aggressive behavior, fights, date rape, and domestic abuse. Does this enhance the party? No, it ruins the party.

Caffeinated alcohol drinks enliven and extend the party.

Andrew Grunanwald, an Ohio State Senior, said to NBC4: “I think it’s just the combination of the two. Alcohol helps you get drunk and the caffeine just keeps you going throughout the night.”[3]

Ban on Four Loco wrongly spoils fun of responsible drinkers.

"Banning alcoholic energy drinks is loco." USF Oracle. November 8th, 2010:

“With these types of bans, there are countless adults over the age of 21 who would no longer be able to responsibly enjoy a product designed for them because the government determined it’s not safe for irresponsible users.”

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