Why Was Four Loko Controversial?

In 2010, the caffeinated malt beverage Four Loko caused a stir in the United States when it became associated with a series of dangerous, binge drinking episodes involving teenagers and college students. That the drinks were boozy (12% ABV), sweet, fruity, cheap, readily available at corner and grocery stores, and loaded with stimulants in addition to alcohol made them especially popular with the underage set.

These same characteristics also had the unfortunate effect of making them harmful to some users, leading to a call for Four Loko’s ban among concerned parents, school officials, and politicians.Here are some of the primary reasons for their concern.

4 Reasons Four Loko Was Controversial

  1. Stimulants in the drink delayed the “feelings of drunkenness,” in many cases causing a person to consume more alcohol than he or she might otherwise. In effect, it was argued, Four Loko’s formula made it difficult for users to gauge how dangerously drunk they were becoming. This was thought to be especially true of young, inexperienced drinkers, who are typically less familiar with or less concerned about the signs of severe intoxication.
  2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with caffeinated energy drinks are three times more likely to binge-drink and twice as likely to report being taken advantage of sexually. (Source: The Boston Globe) These people also more likely to engage in drunk driving, risky behavior, and violence, as well as suffer alcohol poisoning, heart attack, coma and death.
  3. Drinking just two cans of original Four Loko in an hour was considered equivalent to chugging 10-12 beers. Since the human body can’t metabolize alcohol that quickly, the alcohol builds up in your bloodstream and can do crazy things like shut down the respiratory centers of your brain.
  4. Four Loko cans were brightly colored and arguably marketed in such a way that made them almost indistinguishable from non-alcoholic energy drinks. Many also accused Four Loko’s producer, Phusion, of marketing to an underage audience and promoting binge drinking. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is on the record as saying Four Loko was “promoted to a young audience for consumption in multiple servings.” Schumer also called the beverages’ frequent placement next to ordinary energy drinks a “highly disturbing” cause of confusion for both legal and illegal consumers.

In the end, Phusion agreed to stop production of caffeinated alcoholic beverages and agreed to alter its advertising and marketing tactics to reduce its products’ appeal to young people.

21 Comments

  • Peter November 4, 2010 @ 2:46pm

    Liz,

    Really? Are you 26 or 86? This issue (or I should say non-issue) is a media created red herring being pushed forward by politicians and neo-prohibitionists to advance their agendas. Lets all wring our hands and get worried about what the kids are doing like every South Park episode, instead of focusing on real issues that challenge our society and effect young people. Here are 5 reasons to consider why banning Four Loko and it’s ilk is a ridiculous waste of time:

    1. How are these beverages marketed to kids? Brightly colored cans? So you are saying essentially 21 year olds are as easily confused like squirrels by bright colors? These cans also have words on them that can be read to reveal that they contain alcohol.

    2.Marketed to underage drinkers? How? I see every major beer brand pushed like hell during every televised sporting event which are loved and watched millions of children. Maybe people under 21 should not be allowed to watch televised sports too.

    3. Marketed to college kids. Guess what so is every cheap 30 pack out there, and we don’t complain about that.

    4. Three words: vodka red bull…or whatever your favorite energy is. It’s cheap, it’s easy, always available and does the same thing. There are plenty of dangerous things we allow young adults to do like join the military, skydive, drive fast cars, rock climb etc. All perfectly legal and all perfectly dangerous activities, yet the government does not tell 21 year olds if they are responsible enough to participate. Maybe we need a law that says you cannot consume caffeine with in 24 hours of drinking alcohol?

    5. The drinking age is 21. End of story. We already have a drinking age law, which I think is ridiculous, but that’s another story. Four Loko has alcohol in it, no one under 21 should be buying it. End of story. If underage kids are buying it, then use the existing laws to target the establishment selling it to them illegally. Not as sexy a story as evil irresponsible company creates concoction irresistible to children, and it sure won’t grab as many headlines, but enforce existing laws and problem solved.

    Finally, this comment, blog, cable news story and every article out their is selling more Four Loko than any marketing the company could every come up with(see Brew Dog in Scotland). So keep fretting about what the kids are up to and you will only sell more Four Loko. The reality is, the stuff tastes awful and is a fad. If we just ignore it, use existing laws to keep it out of the hands of youngsters this fad will die out. In a couple of years Four Loko will be relegated to the dusty back shelf with the MD 20/20, Nigh Train, Wild Irish Rose, Zima and all the other cheap sugary high alcohol fad garbage barely anyone drinks anymore that is only a can of your favorite energy drink or some crushed up Vivarin away from Four Loko.

    • Vickie November 13, 2016 @ 12:02pm

      You Rocked It!!

  • Liz November 4, 2010 @ 4:04pm

    I’m going to have to continue to disagree with you here, friend. I agree that it’s a hot topic in the media but I truly and honestly think that it’s for very good reason. Maybe neo-prohibitionists are trying to take advantage of an opportunity for selfish gain but that doesn’t make the drink any less dangerous.

    I’d like to reply to the points that you’ve made, individually:

    1. Four Loko IS marketed to kids/underage drinkers – and not just because the cans are brightly colored and priced under $3 (perfect for students who want to get as wasted as possible, as quickly as possible- without spending money) the energy drink market as a whole is aimed at college kids and young adults because they want to be able to “live la vida loko” as some advertisements say. Kids get off on doing “crazy” (properly spelled “loco” means “crazy” in Spanish) things.

    Everything everyone is saying about Four Loko is all about how wasted it gets you, how cheap it is and the fruity flavors

    Check out these fan sites and tell me that these people even begin to resemble responsible adults:

    http://thelokolist.com/

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?src=fftb#!/pages/Four-Loko/233614917678
    More than 32,000 people on Facebook (most of them who look incredibly young) follow this page and the message everyone sees when they go to the page reads:

    Four Loko: big sizes which make you do surprizes…
    Tastey and makes you wastey…
    If you dont like it, you’re a sucker cause four loko makes you fuck her…
    It has a delicious flavor but the memories you cant savor…

    2 & 3. Major beer brands (including every cheap 30 pack out there) are marketed to college kids and I know that college kids are going to drink – a lot. I was in college and I drank – a lot.

    I’m not saying it’s horrible and awful to market drinks to college students, I’m saying that it’s horrible and awful to market drinks that are deceptive to the body in a way that takes binge drinking to a new extreme and puts binge drinkers in more danger than ever before.

    If I have a single 12% beer, I’m wasted and I know that I’m wasted. The energy drink ingredients, particularly the caffeine provide a false sense of sobriety that causes the drinker to think that it’s a good idea to keep drinking when they really should not.

    When a college kid drinks 10-12 cheap beers, they feel very drunk, very full and tired- sometimes they pass out and their friends draw on them with markers. They’ll be hungover in the morning and life goes on.

    When a college kid drinks two cans of Four Loko they feel crazy, they feel wired and they’re ready to keep partying- even though their BAC is well over the legal limit and they are seriously intoxicated. That’s deceptive and it’s beyond dangerous.

    4. Vodka and Red Bull is similar but it’s more expensive and requires more effort making it less convenient for binge drinkers. Vodka Red Bull is most often enjoyed in bars and patrons are less likely be underage. Four Loko is available at just about any gas station and it’s in an easy to grab can that seriously costs $2 – $3. As for the dangerous things that young adults do (like joining the military, skydiving, driving fast cars and rock climbing), I can only say that those are decisions that people typically make while they are of sound mind (not under the influence) and they fully understand the risks that they’re taking.

    5. I agree with you here – although no one under 21 should be purchasing Four Loko, it’s going to happen. Between having older friends purchase it for them and using fake ID’s – it’s not hard to get their hands on it. Existing laws should be used to target the establishments selling it to them.

    Maybe this blog post, news articles, nagging parents. college bans and tv reports will inform binge drinking college students of the dangers and make them think twice before picking up the 2nd or 3rd can the next time they’re at a party.

    PS: Just a little friendly debate action – hope we’re still friends.

    • Gerson September 20, 2015 @ 2:40am

      I love your point of view

      • Trey May 13, 2016 @ 1:15pm

        This really shows you “drank -a lot” beer isn’t even close to 12% alc half that actually. And “WASTED” off one beer. Gimme a break probably voting for Clinton smh

  • Jason Harris November 4, 2010 @ 5:17pm

    I think the mistake here is assuming that the reason these kids are being irresponsible or blackout drunk is because they have this drink. Plenty of binge drinking has been happening for an awful long time, this drink isn’t even the drink of choice as much as it’s a media darling.

    The notion that banning this particular drink will stop 18 year olds from getting blackout drunk is silly. Kids are stupid. I knew kids who huffed freon out of air conditioners when I was in high school. The fact that this stuff is brightly colored or cheap doesn’t make an 18 year old who’s looking to get trashed any more likely to be irresponsible. If this isn’t on the shelf, they’ll replace it with something else.

    All these media reports are doing is glamorizing this drink as the dangerous and exciting choice. It’ll extend the fad for a while and then it’ll die out, and college kids will move on to binge drinking something else. The idea that red bull and vodka is somehow luxurious and inaccessible to college students is baffling.

    • Gerson September 20, 2015 @ 2:45am

      Yess .. I just turned 21 and this drink is evil .. i made a a lot of mistake in life but nothing was more horrible to drink this four loko drink , I drank one and I blackout lost my mind I got a DWI , kids please don’t make the same mistake I made … GOD bless you all

  • Rob November 4, 2010 @ 6:32pm

    Hey Liz.

    I don’t really want to inject myself into the debate, except to say that I do agree that this fad will go away, mainly because this drink tastes like shit. I know Hannah is going to post something about the Blue Raspberry version, but if you or anyone are interested, I reviewed Watermelon Four Loko tonight and dumped the other 20 ounces. http://www.dailybeerreview.com/2010/11/four-loko-watermelon.html

  • Liz November 5, 2010 @ 5:16pm

    Thanks Rob! Appreciate it. I feel like all I’ve done for the last two days is argue about it – but at least it’s getting people to think about it. Cheers!

  • Tv Serials March 23, 2011 @ 11:16am

    The only way a ban on alcoholic energy drinks will have the desired effect is if we also get energy drinks out of bars. There isn’t much difference between drinking Four Loko and drinking Red Bull and vodka in a bar.

    If our actions won’t solve the problem, then the best course is to take no action.

  • Anthony February 20, 2016 @ 6:20pm

    1. Your argument about four loko being marketed towards kids is pure conjecture. You have no proof of that other than the can being colorful, which is an idiotic assumption. Let me assure, you, I’ am a college kid, albeit not a traditional one, and not all of us are that stupid.

    2. If you chug any alcoholic drink you are going to feel wasted, no matter what drink it is. A sane person such as myself, sips drinks, and most people do.

    3. Where are you getting some of your information about college kids from, a national lampoon movie?

    4. Removing products from shelves is the stupid person’s solution, as there will always be a similar products or more dangerous products that replaces it. The real solution, involves changing peoples stupidity. Of course that’s a lot harder, so people with no life whatsoever will rant on blogs such as this one about a product they don’t care for, but here’s the kicker, this blog has had no impact on the issue you are ranting about. So you in fact, wasted your time.

    • Chris April 4, 2019 @ 10:16am

      Anthony,

      This post seems as though it brought out a well thought out, detailed response from you, so it seems as though this was actually time well spent. Cheers!

  • Felipe March 8, 2016 @ 10:29pm

    Yo does anyone know where we can score a pre ban four loko? I want to try that sh** lol.

  • msraymond August 22, 2016 @ 10:39am

    Question 1.
    Are you ready to reveal, to all, the person holding the gun to your head?
    Question 2.
    Are you a lemming?

  • Ernie January 14, 2017 @ 7:15pm

    I mostly echo TvSerials sentiments.
    But it’s a lot of fun to drink and it fucks you up fast.

    • Ernie August 17, 2017 @ 5:30pm

      Fun and efficient. Less mess and cool buzz. Be cool though. Drink responsibly.

    • Chris May 16, 2018 @ 8:51am

      What’s it taste like. And which is the best flavors

  • Larry Hampton May 29, 2017 @ 9:22pm

    Yessir it’ll TWIST YA CAP BACK!!

  • funny August 28, 2017 @ 12:37pm

    When you’re a teenager, all alcohol takes bad, so it doesn’t matter if this drink tastes like shit. Evidence: its popularity.

  • Kat July 4, 2018 @ 5:11pm

    4 loko is the bomb!!! I love it

  • Kat July 4, 2018 @ 5:14pm

    1 takes the place of 3 or 4 beers. Wanna get ur buzz on try watermelon.! Just a lil over 1 in & im buzzzzzzzed up!

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