Another State and Another CBS Station Go Loco Over Four Loko


What is it with CBS affiliates and Four Loko? Yesterday I noted that two CBS stations (in Baltimore and Philadelphia) were reporting that the caffeinated malt beverage drives people insane. Now WBZ, the CBS station in Boston, uncritically regurgitates the following nonsense, attributed to officials at the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (MABCC): "They say the product is really not a malt liquor, but a much more potent form of hard liquor, like vodka."

If state regulators declared that the moon is not really made of rock but is in fact composed of yellowish-blue pressed curd, would WBZ also pass that claim on without comment? Vodka is a distilled spirit that typically has an alcohol content of 40 percent by volume. Four Loko, by contrast, is a fermented malt beverage with an alcoholic content of 12 percent (similar in potency to wine). The term malt liquor applies to malt beverages with a relatively high alcohol content (usually 6 percent to 9 percent). Massachusetts law defines malt beverages as "all alcoholic beverages manufactured or produced by the process of brewing or fermentation of malt, with or without cereal grains or fermentable sugars, or of hops, and containing not more than twelve per cent of alcohol by weight." Since alcohol-by-weight numbers rise when converted to alcohol-by-volume numbers (by around 25 percent at relatively low concentrations), Four Loko is comfortably below the state's potency limit for malt beverages. Yet according to the MABCC by way of WBZ, Four Loko is "a form of hard liquor," except that it is not distilled and has the strength of wine.

Wait, there's more:

Consider this, 80 percent of the young people arrested for underage drinking in the past two weeks had this product on them.

Arrested where? In Boston? Statewide? Nationwide? According to whom? How often did "young people" have beer on them? Assuming this number is not pulled out of thin air, might the brightly colored, conspicuously large Four Loko cans, combined with all the publicity about the product generated by hysterical news outlets such as WBZ, attract disproportionate police attention?

It is not clear from WBZ's account, which says the MABCC plans to ban Four Loko as of Monday, how many products would be affected by the new rule. "Most people know it as Four Loko," WBZ says, "but there are actually 55 products like it with different names." Presumably that is a reference to the 55 products on Michigan's list of newly forbidden "alcohol energy drinks," which includes several products that do not really qualify for that label, such as a craft beer brewed with yerba maté, a Jack Daniel's Country Cocktail, and a "hard" iced tea that no longer exists. According to a November 12 MABCC advisory  (PDF), the commission "has initiated an evaluation of alcohol beverage products in Massachusetts that are commonly referred to as 'alcohol energy drinks.'" It mentions Four Loko and Joose.

Kim Gainesboro, chairman of the MABCC, tells WBZ:

We are concerned about consumer protection. We are concerned that people who are drinking these alcoholic beverages are not aware of the ingredients which are contained in them.

If only there were some way for consumers to learn the ingredients which are contained in these alcoholic beverages.