Michigan commission's reactive ban misses point
Nicknamed “black out in a can,” Four Loko and other alcoholic energy drinks have been banned from Michigan vendor’s shelves. Like other recent Michigan bans, it does little to address the problems in a community with an entrenched binge drinking culture.
The ban went into effect less than two weeks after nine Central Washington University students ended up in the hospital after consuming too much of an alcoholic energy drink.
It is the duty of Legislature and various governing bodies such as the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, to keep a lookout for possibly hazardous and harmful products, but banning products based on news reports is a little inconclusive.
Granted, there were some alarming reports. According to an ABC News story, authorities in Washington thought the students who had consumed too much of the beverage were victims of a date rape drug.
The New York Daily News reported that a tall can of Four Loko is 23.5 ounces, with an alcohol content of 12 percent, and that drinking one can is comparable to drinking five to six beers and several shots of espresso.
By itself, this is possibly enough information to encourage someone to act responsibly while consuming Four Loko, but it’s not enough to institute a ban.
Speedy bans with no real research basis have recently taken place in Michigan. Case in point: the synthetic cannibinoid, K2. Days after the ban was instituted, alternatives hit the shelves. With a little bit of alteration, it was legal again.
People always are going to find some alternatives. In this case, mixing the beverages themselves. Four Loko could separate its ingredients, or come up with a mixer to stay on the shelves.
Making a decision for someone instead of informing them of the consequences of their decisions doesn’t get at the root of the problem.
Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s and the War on Drugs hasn’t exactly been a success, so what makes anyone think an outright ban will work now?
It’s sad that a handful of students ended up in the hospital, but isn’t that a realistic outcome after consuming too much of any alcoholic beverage? It has yet to be discovered what about Four Loko is dangerous, besides consuming too much of it.
Does it have any future health risks? Why is Four Loko illegal in Michigan while Jägerbombs still can be ordered in bars?
The short answer is Four Loko and products like it are easy targets. Still, these are questions that should have been answered by the commission before a ban was enacted.
Removing Four Loko and similar products from shelves is a feather in the cap of the commission, even though it misses the simple point underneath everything: Alcohol is dangerous if not consumed responsibly. And binge drinking is extremely harmful and in some cases, fatal.
The commission needs to think a little harder about what it does, instead of overreacting to issues that might be a little controversial.
A ban is a quick fix. It makes it look as if the commission has solved a problem, when all it has done is aggressively posture.