Last Tuesday, Four Loko, in response to pressure from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), officially decided to remove the caffeine from their caffeinated alcoholic drink on the premise that the combination is unsafe. While caffeine does hide some effects of drunkenness, the FDA’s ban oversteps its boundaries, due more to political allegiances than public safety.
Drink Four Brewing Co.’s Four Loko has received most of the media’s attention. For an average $2.69, the 23.5-ounce caffeinated malt alcoholic drink contains 12 percent alcohol – as much as four beers – and nearly 260 mg of caffeine, or two cups of brewed coffee, according to the company’s web site.
The reason for this ban may be more political than anything. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), one of the most outspoken critics of these drinks, said this ban should “serve as a warning to anyone who tries to peddle dangerous and toxic brews to our children; do it and we will shut you down.”
While this sounds noble, what you do not hear is that Sen. Schumer received $142,000 in campaign contributions from major alcohol brands – competitors to Four Loko and the caffeinated alcohol industry – according to a column in a Nov. 18 edition of The Aggie.
The FDA, referring to incidents on college campuses, claims that including this additive masks the effects of being drunk, potentially causing continual drinking. While the caffeine keeps people awake, they are still drunk. Those who choose to keep drinking should be held accountable, not Four Loko.
In addition, the combination of alcohol and caffeine is not a new trend. Alcoholic drinks such as rum and cokes have been around for years. If this additive in alcoholic drinks is a public safety issue, why are these drinks still legal?
Regardless, it is possible to responsibly enjoy Four Loko as it is with any other alcoholic beverage when over the age of 21. The key is to not ban them but to educate the public on the potential effects of drinking both caffeine and alcohol.
Instead of being forced to reformulate their recipe, the Drink Four Brewing Co. could include a more specific government-warning label explaining the effects of drinking its beverage. It could also use smaller cans, which would lower the risk of becoming too drunk from one can.
The FDA should not punish an entire industry because of the mistakes of individuals or because of political pressure. Instead, they should work with the companies to find a better, educational solution rather than taking the easy route.