Irresponsibility the issue, not Four Loko

By Ransom Cozzillio
November 24, 2010

Two Penn State University students died last year. One died in a fatal car accident and the other after a fall down a concrete staircase. Both students were found to have a blood alcohol content well into a mortally dangerous range. These deaths drew both local and national media attention, but no one seemed to care what exactly these students had drunk, and therefore this remains tragedy, not a movement.

Recently, a spate of injuries, deaths and delinquencies have been linked to the popular drink Four Loko (and those like it), which combines caffeine, alcohol and fruity flavors in a large, 23.5oz can. And, unlike the unfortunate deaths at Penn State, now the alcoholic menace has a face. This time, it is a movement.

As soon as information and reports started surfacing about the negative influence of Four Loko, people jumped to crucify the product as an unparalleled danger.

In response to this torrent of bad publicity, college campuses across the country have banned Four Loko. The public has demanded FDA investigations and sanctions of such a product and, to date, several states have barred the product from being solid.

MCT

Unfortunately, for lack of any truly blameworthy cause of irresponsible drinking , Four Loko has found its head on the chopping block. Isn’t it silly that we have nothing better to do than continually levy irrational blame? Four Loko should be banned no sooner than any other cheap, flavored alcohol. To accuse it and its manufacturers of acting irresponsibly is to shy away from our own poor judgment. Drinks aren’t dangerous, people are dangerous.

At some point doesn’t buyer (or “drinker”) beware have to take over? If drinking excessively is a health risk, then whose fault is it when one over-drinks?

Some may argue that the can size, alcohol levels and taste in Four Loko are overtly misleading. People allege that, with Four Loko, they can’t tell how much alcohol they’ve ingested until it’s too late. The interesting thing about that criticism is how clearly Four Loko cans are marked. It notifies the drinker in large colorful text that this drink contains both caffeine and alcohol. Furthermore, the amount of alcohol is specified and even conveniently converted to display the amount of actual drinks as legally defined. In other words, if a drinker is literate, this shouldn’t fool them.

However, many hold that clear warning labels are irrelevant because Four Loko is an inherently dangerous and unhealthy product. After all, putting a warning label in broken glass doesn’t mean one can sell it in a grocery store. Proponents of this argument hold that mixing alcohol with caffeine can lead to heart attacks and can mask the alcohols effects, leading to more drunk driving (people can’t tell when they’re drunk and feel they can still drive).The problem with these arguments is that they are all relatively baseless.

First, while, in theory, large amounts of caffeine taken with alcohol can cause heart problems, Four Loko has only been linked to one possible heat attack since its appearance on the market. Given the millions of cans sold, this is a tenuous linkage at best. Besides, no one is rioting against the sale of vodka-Redbulls or Irish Coffee in bars (which both likely contain more caffeine than a Four Loko does).

As for the drunk-driving issue, anyone who would drink the equivalent of five or six beers and then get behind the wheel of a car lacks sufficient judgment to be drinking anyway. Unfortunately, judgment isn’t sold in a can but apparently blame can be.

Ultimately, many blame Four Loko’s manufacturers, just as manufacturers are always blamed, for being irresponsible. They posit that with its colorful can, fruity taste and low price point, Four Loko is directly marketed at younger, more judgmentally-vulnerable young adults. While this may or may not be true, it’s not consistent with the current maelstrom of criticism.

After all, who is it exactly that Bankers Club vodka markets to? With its easily-concealable plastic bottle and $11-per-handle price tag, I’m fairly certain they aren’t aimed at the liquor connoisseur. The poor college kid is a far more likely target, so where’s the outrage?

There is no outrage, because vodka (or any other traditional liquor for that matter) is already too accepted to be a convenient target. Four Loko is new, and therefore strange and unsafe.

The problem is, nowadays, blame and public outrage are so easy to stir. Now, it’s never a personal problem, behavioral problem or cultural problem (you’ll notice that Europe, with its lower drinking ages doesn’t have this issue), it’s clearly a product problem. Of course there are no irresponsible consumers, just unscrupulous companies.

So the next time young adults are acting recklessly with some age old substance, let’s pillory Captain Morgan, or Budweiser. Go after the companies that are “forcing” kids to drink unsafely. Obviously that’s that solution we need.

1 thought on “Irresponsibility the issue, not Four Loko”

  1. Excellent article, Ransom. It’s a strange, potentially dangerous brew, but then again, so is all alcohol in general. Like Ben Franklin said, “Everything in moderation.” Well done.

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Ransom Cozzillio

1 thought on “Irresponsibility the issue, not Four Loko”

  1. Excellent article, Ransom. It’s a strange, potentially dangerous brew, but then again, so is all alcohol in general. Like Ben Franklin said, “Everything in moderation.” Well done.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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