Four Loko was not the first alcoholic beverage to be singled out as a special threat to public health, safety, and morals for reasons that in retrospect are hard to understand. Here is a rundown of some other demonized drinks.
Demonized drink: gin
Charge: too cheap
Legal action: The British Gin Act of 1736 imposed prohibitive taxes on the drink, provoking riots; the levy was abolished in 1742.
Representative quote: Gin is “the principal cause…of all the vice & debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people, as well as the felonies & other disorders committed in & about this town.” —Middlesex magistrates, 1721
Demonized drink: absinthe
Charge: too conducive to madness and murder
Legal action: After the ban wagon started rolling in Europe, absinthe was prohibited in the U.S. from 1912 until 2007, when the Food and Drug Administration began permitting formulations with minimal amounts of thujone, a psychoactive chemical in wormwood.
Representative quote: “Absinthe makes one crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant. It disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.” —petition from a French temperance group, 1917
Demonized drink: PowerMaster Malt Liquor
Charge: too appealing to dark-skinned drinkers
Legal action: In 1991, following complaints from black activists and Surgeon General Antonia Novello, federal regulators who had initially approved the product’s label decided the brand name illegally alluded to alcoholic strength.
Representative quote: “PowerMaster is marketed to primarily low-income powerless people so you get a feeling of euphoria and that you are powerful and masterful when in fact things that make you powerful and masterful you are not doing—you’re drinking malt liquor.” —the Rev. Calvin Butts of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, 1991
Demonized drink: Black Death Vodka
Charge: too morbid