A large group of Central Washington University students throw a party and consume copious amounts of Four Loko, a beverage that comes in tall cans and packs the punch of a six pack of beer and five cups of coffee. What could go wrong? Anything? Any ideas? Can you imagine any way that something bad could happen when teenage college freshmen down caffeinated booze with 12% alcohol?
Well, naturally everyone throws up and passes out, not necessarily in that order. Nine students were sent to the hospital after the Oct. 8 party. At first authorities suspected that the students were drugged. Instead, it turns out the high-alcohol energy drink was the only culprit.
The drink, also known by the nicknames "Black-Out In A Can" and "Liquid Cocaine," is now being scrutinzed by lawmakers. New Jersey's Ramapo College has already banned caffeinated booze. Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna has gone so far as to say that the product should be prohibited from being sold.
"They're marketed to kids by using fruit flavors that mask the taste of alcohol and they have such high levels of stimulants that people have no idea how inebriated they really are. They're packaged just like non-alcoholic drinks, but include a dangerous dose of malt liquor," McKenna said.
It will be interesting to see how successful states and universities are at regulating the sale of such beverages. Legally, the question will likely come down to whether the product is safe as consumed and whether it is marketed to underage drinkers. As far as the safety goes, it's a fairly loose standard. After all, alcohol and energy drinks are both already legal. In 2008, scientists and doctors petitioned the FDA for regulation over caffeine in non-alcoholic energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster. Not much has changed in the industry since then.
Regarding the question of whether Four Loko markets to underage drinkers, the company said absolutely not. "Our cans feature seven different warnings about the product's alcohol content and the necessity of an ID for purchase ... we're the only manufacturer to prominently place a 'WE ID' message on our can. We also offer free, point-of-sale materials to stores selling our products that reinforce the importance of asking for identification when selling any alcoholic beverage."
That may all be true, but if teenagers keep getting their hands on the stuff and literally going loco, expect the legislature to eventually step in and attempt to regulate.