Four Loko is a popular alcoholic drink that is facing a growing backlash. Four states have banned it, and now the company has agreed to stop shipping Four Loko to New York. So what is this fearsome concoction? Well it's essentially a pre-packaged version of a common cocktail concept: mixing a lot of alcohol with a lot of caffeine. For example, a quick web search turns up many recipes for Red Bull and liquor. (Red Bull is an "energy drink" with caffeine as a key ingredient.)

Drinking one 24-ounce can of Four Loko provides the alcoholic kick of four beers and the caffeine buzz of a strong cup of coffee. Drinking one quickly makes someone pretty drunk and reasonably awake, and able to drink more. As a result, college students seem particularly drawn to it, which has landed some in hospitals. But should Four Loko be banned state-by-state as a result? I don't think so.

Banning Four Loko might prevent some people, particularly some college students, from hurting themselves or others. But it does nothing to improve people's judgment or otherwise empower them to protect themselves. Banning hidden hazards from consumer products is one thing -- for example, heavy metals in jewelry for children -- but the hazards of drinking Four Loko couldn't be clearer.

It's no mystery, not even to binge-prone college students, that drinking too much alcohol is unhealthy, and can be trip-to-the-emergency-room dangerous. It's also no mystery that caffeine keeps you awake -- few college students study without it. And it's precisely caffeine's known ability to enable a drunk person to stay awake and continue to party that has led to the explosion of mixing "energy drinks" and alcohol, whether pre-packaged or not. College students -- just like everyone else -- need to learn to make choices that enable them to live long, productive lives, including the choice not to poison themselves with alcohol.

One More Step on a Path of Hypocrisy

While I support nanny-state efforts aimed at younger children -- getting junk food out of schools, for example -- our nation's approach to dealing with 18- to 21-year-olds and alcohol goes too far for me, and bans on drinks like Four Loko are outgrowths of that initial mistake. An 18-year-old can defend our country, vote for our leaders, be prosecuted and punished as an adult, watch X-rated movies -- and for a while, mostly in the 1970s, an 18-year-old could legally drink alcohol too. Some states had allowed 18-year-olds to drink beer, beer and wine, or all forms of alcohol at a younger age before the 1970s. The current nationwide 21-year-old drinking age is the result of a federal law from 1984, passed as an effort to combat drunk driving and the catastrophic crashes that result from it.

While I certainly don't defend drunk driving, I can't support the hypocrisy of respecting the judgment of 18-year-olds in so many other crucial contexts, but rejecting it in this one. But even if one accepts as a matter of principle the idea that the drinking age should be 21, the idea that Four Loko should be banned still goes too far. For starters, it's already illegal for young adults to buy Four Loko. Just because the drinking age is ineffectively enforced, and college students make good poster children for justifying bad policies, doesn't mean that Four Loko -- or any other caffeinated alcoholic beverage -- should be banned on the basis that 18-year-olds drink it.

We cannot ban our way to safety for America's youth.

Parents, first and foremost, but also relatives, neighbors, schools and worship communities, need to raise children with the critical-thinking skills and impulse control necessary to choose well -- at least well enough so that they don't pound so much alcohol and caffeine that they end up in the emergency room. And the 18 year old adults who make lousy choices anyway? They can't escape the ultimate teacher: experience. Ultimately, young people will be hit by enough consequences that the adults they become will make better choices. With luck, they won't kill themselves or anyone else first. But if they do, that's life.

There is no guarantee of absolute safety from accidents, and all the bans in the world won't create one.

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4 Loko can be dangerous if when you're drinking, you don't take responsibility for your actions. It's mixing a downer (alcohol) with an upper (Guarana-caffeine). But this is no different than a classic Jagerbomb. (Red Bull + Jagermeister) Red Bull and Jager haven't been banned and people haven't blacked out from them when they're basically the same thing as a can a 4 Loko... So what's the deal with 4 Loko? It's banned cause a bunch of dumb college kids decided to act stupid and ruin it for the rest of us? That's quite ignorant. I don't think they should be banned, I think they should sell them maybe more carefully, but not fully banned from shelves.

December 02 2010 at 2:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is rediculous. The reason those people died from ingesting fourloko is because their own ignorance, not from the drink itself. One girl, had diet pills in her system; any different alcohol combined with diet pills can result in a fatal diagnosis. The boy, was a drug addict; enough said. Each and every fourloko can presents warning labels about the drink. If people wish to ignore them, that's their own fault. They've complied with the agency's request and have submitted a GRAS study showing that combining caffeine and alcohol is safe - a practice that is by no means new or novel. 40 different caffeinated alcoholic products are in the United States alone and I see noone making a fuss about them. If people want to ruin their livers & have a good time with fourloko, let them. Keep your mouths to yourselves and end all of this immaturity.

November 29 2010 at 9:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

More government trying to protect us from ourselves when they can't even manage their own affairs. I never cared much for Redbull and Rum... I think I will start ordering it now just to piss a few people off.

November 29 2010 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I drink the stuff, I had a couple of cans Saturday night. But I am a 33 year old man who is drinking responsibly and legally, not a teenager who isn't supposed to be drinking it anyway. I looked at the can while drinking it and recall (that's right, I remember even after drinking a can and a half) the can having a few warnings about drinking the beverage. I believe one of them said something about being over 21, one said something about alcohol impairing judgement and that I shouldn't drive or operate heavy machinery, and there may have even been something in there about drinking responsibly. I would say that 95% of the people I have talked to about this drink in the past week agree that it should be consumed responsibly, by adults, and that the product should not be banned based on teenagers illegally and very irresponsibly drinking it.

November 22 2010 at 7:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The consequences of ingesting this alcoholic beverage is nothing short of catastrophic. Caffeine will act as a stimulant, alcohol will act as a central nervous system depressant and the added sugar will act as a secondary stimulant. The body is being taken on a vicious 'roller coaster ride ' for lack of a better description. Each of these chemicals is metabolized and excreted at a different rate and the body suffers as it is trying to rid itself of these dangerous ingredients. Please do not use this product. The body tries at all cost to mantain a state of equilibrium between itself and the external environment, however this product totally confuses the body and its delicate defense mechanisms. 'Health' is such a delicate item, easily lost and so very expensive to recover. Please avoid Four Lokos at all cost,your body will thank you and I thank you!.

November 22 2010 at 4:00 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to erroledickson's comment

mind your own business.

November 29 2010 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I couldn't agree with this author more. In Suffolk County, New York, the county government recently raised the age of buying cigarettes from 18 to 19. Why? Because some parents were concerned that 18 year olds who might still be in high school would buy cigarettes for their underage friends. So their solution was to rather than live with the fact that adults sometimes do bad things, was to once again spit in the face of 18 year old adults everywhere by eroding their rights as adults. Parents and "Big Brother" would rather than trusting peoples judgment are willing to erode the rights of legal adults rather than deal with the fact that maybe a few more 17 or 16 year olds will have access to cigarettes, once again trading freedom for safety. Also recently in Suffolk County there has been talk of upping the age for which one is allowed to pawn jewlery from 18 to 21. Why? Because, there is heroin epidemic and parents are worried that their kids might steal and sell their jewlery to pay for heroin. Well to that I must say 1) If you're kids are on heroin already than there are probably worst things that they can (and are doing) to buy heroin. 2) The real reason is because these parents do not have the courage to turn their own kids over to the police for stealing from them, so they'd rather pass the buck and the responsibility over to the pawnshop owners to not buy jewlery from 18 year olds. So once again, the county government seeks to erode the rights of adults, and trade freedom for safety. If people care about their kids than they will take responsiblity for them, and if there kids are 18 than they shouldn't treat them like children, and asking the state to make up for society's problems and their failings as parents in unacceptable. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both." Hopefully, the government and parents of Suffolk County will heed those words. Because I promise them if they continue down this path, they will have neither.

November 22 2010 at 3:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Anita De Lois

I'd like to know who created the Four Loco drink if it's illegal, then what idiot decided to put this on the market

November 22 2010 at 12:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for this article! Cited in - a document open to the public, w/ the intention of being a brain-dump for ideas as to what to include in a letter to the FDA questioning the legitimacy of the ban.

November 19 2010 at 11:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Im a coffee drinker and love it. I dont drink alcohol it kills. We live in a world where our government tells us what to do and what not to do. I have learned to live with that. Most of the time there right, but sometimes they get it wrong. If you have watched the news lately LOKO was on it and our government was trying to put a ban on it so that the makers wouldnt be able to sell it, i dont know what became of it. The mixing of caffeine and alcohol sounds like a recipe between good and evil. I also watched the news on the TSA at the airports and there full body search and scan. MAYBE OUR GOVERNMENT should make K=MART & WALMART and all other superchains do a full body search or full body scan on there customers on there way out of there store, to make sure your not stealing from them. Amagine the BILLIONS they would save in thief. LOKO MAY NOT BE WISE, AND TSA MIGHT BE WRONG. The point is no matter what we say, do, or make the government has the last laugh. In the we need to be told what is right, and what is wrong. Thats why every year we have new laws we must mind or pay the fine.

November 19 2010 at 2:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

pretty soon everything in this "free" country will be banned. So you ban caffine, alcohol drinks? Uh, so whats next? they going to ban Jack Daniels and Coke Cola?

November 19 2010 at 1:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply