Loko, but not Crazy

Just who is at fault in alcohol poisonings and other erratic college behavior?

Published in CSP Daily News

By  Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- I drank my first can of Four Loko the other day. As CSP's beverage editor, I feel it's my duty to sample as many news-making products as I can. Often, it's quite gratifying. (Hmm, import beers are making a comeback; must investigate!) Other times, it can be downright painful. This was one of those "other times."

I can see where "kids" in college are getting a kick out of a product like Four Loko, or any of its brethren. Like most alcohol beverages, the first time you sample Four Loko's sickeningly sweet, overly medicinal-tasting combination of alcohol [image-nocss] and energy ingredients is less than gratifying. I mean, what did you think the first time you tried tequila?

So, I grimaced through those first few sips of Four Loko. But like a combination of over-sweetened Kool-Aid and any of the strongest energy drinks out there, slowly the taste buds come around. The numbing effect of the alcohol probably doesn't hurt, either. I won't say I liked it, but I could understand it.

College kids enjoy a good, quick buzz; with 12% alcohol in each 23.5-ounce can, Four Loko provides just that. The protest Four Loko and its ilk now face in several states and before the FDA concerns the energy ingredientscaffeine, guarana and taurine. These ingredients, opponents say, give the drinker a sense of being "wide-awake drunk," thus opening the door to over imbibing. I guess most of these folks never heard of my nephew's Red Bull & vodka. Or my father-in-law's rum & Coke. Or my Great Aunt Shirley's Irish coffee.

The outcry stems from suggestions the product forced the hospitalization of nine freshmen from Central Washington University. As I recall, the typical freshmen shouldn't be drinking alcohol at all based on age. Another college student in Florida shot himself after drinking the energy/alcohol beverages. His parents say the caffeine allowed him to drink beyond the point where he could control what he was doing with the handgun. I don't recall it ever being a good idea to drink and mess with a firearm.

Now, I don't want to see anyone get hurt, but is Four Loko, a product made by Phusion Projects in Chicago, a scapegoat? Yeah, probably. The FDA has warned Phusion and other makers of similar products to reformulate the products minus the energy ingredients or else. Despite disputing any connection between its products and erratic behavior, Phusion has agreed. Consider it a preemptive, public-relations move. Don't sully a brand name that's caught a consumer demographic's eye.

The real problem here is that the state and FDA officials displayed knee-jerk reactions citing general news reports based as much on sensationalism as fact, and not for the first time. A couple years ago, similar outcry led Miller Brewing Co. to remove the caffeine from its Sparks malt beverage; Anheuser-Busch did the same with Tilt.

So either ban it ... or don't. But make the decision based on sound data rather than supposition.

Remember a few years back when a college student died after drinking so much water as part of a fraternity hazing that he literally drowned himself? It seems there are few "harmless" products on our shelves. At what point can we legislate common sense?

And me? Well, I was able to refuse the allure of a second can of Four Loko, despite its chemical effects. In the meantime, I'm putting in for hazard pay for whatever damage it may have done to my gut, not to mention the calorie count, which is blissfully left off the can.
Agree? Disagree? Please email your thoughts to Steve Holtz, CSP news director, at sholtz@cspnet.com and let us know if we can run it in CSP Daily News.

By Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor
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