Ban on 'Four Loko' would be crazy
Nine college students in the state of Washington ended up in the hospital earlier this month. Allegedly, they were so sick hospital employees believed they had been drugged. But as it turns out, they had not been drugged at all but had been drinking Four Loko — and evidently way too much of it.
The alcoholic energy drink, dubbed “blackout in a can” by health officials, is now under attack.
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna is now calling for a ban on the alcoholic energy drink that has become nearly ubiquitous at college parties throughout the U.S., and many other states are considering following suit.
Four Loko derives its name from its four primary ingredients: alcohol, caffeine, taurine and guarana. Not surprisingly, it isn’t the taurine or guarana that has health officials worried, but what they view as the hazardous combination of caffeine and alcohol.
Drinking one Four Loko is the equivalent of six beers and several cups of coffee, and many students drink many more than one. While I agree the drink is not without its potential risks, Four Loko should not be banned.
The drink is giving people exactly what they want and isn’t the problem but only a portion of a larger, dangerous cultural trend.
Part of the reason the U.S. drinking age is 21 is because there’s a hope — and probably only a hope — that young people will be knowledgeable enough by the time they turn 21 to drink responsibly.
As an individual who frequents bars, I can tell you that is entirely false. People take lines of shots, drink pitchers full of margaritas and pound Jägerbombs — college students typically are not going out to the bars to have two to four drinks.
Add in the discounted pitchers of beer that carry an inherent assumption that it only is meant to be consumed by one, and it can be seen the problem isn’t a particular drink, but that binge drinking is merely the poison of choice.
Some might argue that when drinking at the bar, patrons are monitored by the staff and can be cut off at any time, making it safer. While this is true, those monitoring also are serving you beer in half-gallon pitchers — don’t tell me that’s safe.
College students go to the bars to get drunk as quickly and cheaply as possible. I do it, my roommates do it, and everyone I know does it. It’s not healthy, but neither are the frozen chicken nuggets I eat later.
Students want cheap, potent drinks that maybe taste like fruit punch, and Four Loko provides exactly that.
The seemingly overnight rise to fame wasn’t a mistake. It fits perfectly into the college party scene. Four Loko merely reflects our own preferences, and we shouldn’t ban something we created a market for.
It also could be claimed Four Loko is getting into the hands of minors, who account for an estimated 15 percent of the total alcohol sold.
I would say caffeine and alcohol didn’t start with Four Loko, and the drink is no more dangerous than a lot of Jägermeister, a lot of Red Bull and a weekend unsupervised at grandma’s cabin up north.
Binge drinking, and the culture that accompanies it, is widespread in the U.S. and especially pervasive in college towns. Unless we change this culture, banning Four Loko or any other alcoholic energy drink is futile.
Instead of banning certain drinks and attributing all of our problems to these newfangled energy drinks with booze in them, we should acknowledge that we have dangerous drinking habits and should work toward curbing them. It is our actions that help form and develop this culture — everything else is reactionary.
Banning alcoholic energy drinks is an effort to placate the masses and tell them, “We really hit the problem on the head this time!” It still leaves the larger issue completely unaddressed.
Nine students might have been sent to the hospital because they drank Four Loko, but over Halloween weekend many more than nine students will be sent to the emergency room from drinking too much beer.
It isn’t the drink that we should question — only ourselves. Defending something that probably destroys my body isn’t easy to do, but if it wasn’t Four Loko that had the talking heads concerned, it surely would be something else.
Matt Manning is a State News guest columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.