The term “drink responsibly” has taken on a new meaning, thanks to the newest trend on college campuses: caffienated alcoholic beverages.
The dangerously cheap Four Loko, a caffeinated malt liquor drink that has made its mark on college campuses all over America, has been banned in Michigan, Washington, Oklahoma and Utah.
Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board has asked state-run liquor stores to voluntarily stop selling it and is expected to ban the beverage’s sale from the state by the end of the month.
According to an article in the New York Daily News, New York’s State Liquor Authority has pressured the state’s biggest beer distributors to stop delivering the beverage and others like it to New York retailers by Dec. 10, and now Arkansas and Indiana have been added to the list of states that are investigating a ban.
Drinks that mix caffeine and alcohol are nothing new, but Four Loko is an exception to the typical Red Bull and vodka combination.
The alcoholic energy drinks, pre-mixed in a 23.5-ounce can, contain 12 percent alcohol, estimated to be the equivalent of four or five beers, and the caffeine amount comparable to that of a tall Starbucks coffee.
Four Loko contains a mix of caffeine, taurine, guarana and alcohol, hence the brand name “Four,” which is derived from the use of these four ingredients.
Four Loko was created by Phusion Projects LLC, a Chicago-based company founded by Chris Hunter, Jaisen Freeman and Jeff Wright, three friends at Ohio State University, in 2005.
Alcoholic energy drinks like Four Loko are dangerous in that they create the “wide awake drunk” effect on consumers. The caffeine stimulates the brain, keeps the drinkers alert and convinces them that they haven’t they haven’t felt any effects of what they’re drinking, causing them to drink more, which results in extreme intoxication.
The beverage, which has been given the title “blackout in a can” by retailers, sells for under $3 a can, also adding to its appeal to students.
Four Loko was first introduced to the market in August of 2008 and currently comes in eight flavors: orange, fruit punch, lemonade, cranberry lemonade, uva or grape, watermelon, blue raspberry and lemon-lime.
Despite the nationwide controversy the drink and its effect on college students and adolescents has caused, Phusion Projects continues to defend it, arguing the beverage has roughly the same alcohol content as wine and some craft beers, and far less alcohol by volume than hard liquor, according to one of the company’s press releases.
Furthermore, Phusion Projects defends the beverage by saying that it is the first caffeinated alcoholic beverage company to add “We I.D.” tags and seven different warnings about the alcohol content on its cans.
The company, in an open letter to state and federal regulators, said that if Four Loko is banned because of its effects on people, then every caffeinated alcoholic beverage should be taken off the market as well. “If mixing caffeine and alcohol is the most pressing concern, addressing it would be best accomplished by creating laws that apply to the entire caffeinated-alcoholic beverage category – not specific, individual products and not just beers or malt-based products,” the company said.
The letter goes on to say that Phusion Products is prepared to “protect their rights as a business to the fullest extent of the law” if product-specific bans remain the preferred course of action.
While the company continues to defend the beverage, the evidence of its effects on today’s youth can’t be denied.
Nine female students at Central Washington University were hospitalized in October after drinking Four Loko, leading to its ban in the state. According to an article in the New York Daily News, 21-year-old Maryland woman Courtney Spurry lost her life after drinking two Four Loko and driving her Ford pickup truck into a telephone pole.
Spurry’s friends, who were with her as she was drinking the beverages, blame the drink for her death, as they believe it caused her to “lose her mind.” Spurry’s friends say they saw an immediate change in her after consuming Four Loko, as she could not remember the names of the people she was around and passed out frequently throughout the night.
According to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Four Loko has been proven to cause students to experience many alarming side effects, including walking blackouts, anxiety, heart palpitations, psychosis-like episodes and hyper-vigilance.
Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board stopped short of a ban in a letter to retailers in early November. In the letter, Jerry W. Waters Sr., the agency’s regulatory affairs director, asked retailers not to sell the drinkss until the Food and Drug Administration decides if they are safe.
“They don’t have to agree necessarily, but we hope they will,” he said. “It will benefit everyone in the long run and hopefully keep college students and other young adults out of trouble.”
Heather Schumacher, a junior pre-medicine biology major, said she doesn’t think the drinks are too much of a threat.
“As long as you drink it responsibly, then you’re fine,” she said. “I feel like it’s similar to drinking any other alcohol.”
Schumacher also said that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s plan to ban the drink by the end of the month won’t help much.
“People will still be able to get a hold of it and abuse it,” she said.
Justine Unger, a senior social work major, also said Four Loko isn’t dangerous if it’s consumed responsibly.
“I think it can be dangerous if a person drinks a ridiculous amount, but I don’t think one or two is bad,” she said. “It’s all about knowing your limits.”
Unger, a native of Oakfield, N.Y., also said that the state’s plan to ban the selling of the drink in stores won’t stop determined students, especially those from out of state, from getting their hands on the drink.
“I think they’ll be consumed less, but if students really want them, there are always ways to get them,” she said. “They could always get them in their hometown and bring them to Pennsylvania or jump across state lines and get them there.”