If all goes according to plan, makers of Four Loko, Joose, and others will soon be getting a letter from the Federal Trade Commission notifying them that they are in violation of federal law. Following several statewide bans of Four Loko, the Food and Drug Administration is preparing to ban caffeinated alcoholic drinks (or are they alcoholic energy drinks?) nationwide as soon as this week.
The announcement was made by Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has lobbied for the banning of the drinks, and is the result of a one-year investigation into whether caffeine was a safe addition to alcoholic beverages. I could have saved you the time, guys: it isn’t. But when has that stopped anyone before?
On top of the students in Central Washington and New Jersey that we told you about a couple weeks ago, Four Loko is now being tied to the deaths of two Florida teenagers. One of them mixed it with diet pills (probably containing more speed), and the other died of an acute combination of alcoholic poisoning, caffeine psychosis, and a self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound.
“This ruling should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks,” Mr. Schumer said. “Parents should be able to rest a little easier.”
So what if Four Loko is dangerous? So are cars, swimming pools and the KFC Double Down. Is the problem here really that there’s a stupidly potent product on the convenience store shelves with bright labels that attract younger drinkers? Or is the problem that young drinkers are stupid with them? If we’re going to point the finger, there’s a lot to go around.
Why aren’t we pointing the finger at the liquor control system for failing in their quest to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors, but succeeds at getting in the way at so many other things?
Why aren’t we mad that no one has ever explained to these kids what generations of recreational drug users have known: don’t mix uppers and downers?
Why aren’t we angry at the parents who can’t pull their own heads out of the vodka tonic long enough to teach their kids that just because something is legal doesn’t mean we can’t do really, really stupid things with it?
Maybe it’s easier to shake our fist at the government for not protecting us from these products than it is accept that we knowingly engage in risky behavior with full knowledge that it is. It also means that we have to hold ourselves personally accountable the stupid stuff we do. Drink too much? That’s your right, and it’s also nobodies fault but your own. It means that just because we’re allowed to do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, even if we end up doing it anyway.
And that’s why banning it isn’t going to solve the problem. Just taking away the product isn’t going to change the fact that a new generation of drinkers has learned that mixing speed with their booze is a whole lot of fun (until you end up in the hospital). It’s a Pandora’s box scenario. Before it was Four Loko, it was homemade legal speedballs like vodka and Red Bull and Irish coffee. We Americans are nothing if not resourceful, and we’ll find a new, better way to get ourselves puking blacked-out drunk.
That said, let’s make one thing clear: Four Loko is disgusting. It has all the flavor of codeine cough syrup with the stomach-churning effects of a shot of ipecac, and it turns people into especially irritating drunks. But banning it isn’t getting to the root of the problem; it’s a token political maneuver for politicians who want to appeal to their constituents and don’t want to deal directly with complex causes deeply rooted in our society. If Congress really wants to make some headway and look at these, I wish they’d go ahead and do it already so that we don’t have to keep defending this vile stuff.