David Katz, M.D.: I Don't Get It, So It Should Be Banned


David Katz is a medical doctor (as his byline at The Huffington Post proudly announces) with a limited imagination (as he reveals in a recent essay). That combination (along with his MPH) makes him ideally suited to run Yale University's CDC-funded Prevention Research Center, which looks for ways to stop people from doing things that David Katz thinks are bad for them. Things like mixing alcohol with caffeine:

The writing would seem to be on the wall for Four Loko and other beverages that combine alcohol and caffeine, as the FDA considers an outright ban of the combination. Anyone who is for sanity and safety in marketing should read it and cheer, not weep.

Combining alcohol and caffeine is—in one word—crazy. Don't do it! It has an excellent chance of hurting you, and a fairly good chance of killing you….

The commercial products at the center of the current scandal combine highly concentrated alcohol—the equivalent of five beers in a single can—with a full mug of coffee's worth of caffeine. Before the can is set down, you are inebriated, but too wired on caffeine to know it.

It's hard to imagine any argument for such products—except that selling them makes money for someone. So does selling heroin and cocaine, which are also very bad ideas.

It's also hard to imagine anyone objecting to a ban of such products, although the strong "keep the government out of my business" sentiment that runs through our society suggests that some will find cause to do so. In response to any objections, I can only ask: Where would you draw the line? Should the government stay out of the crack, heroin, and angel dust business as well, and simply let the peddling of such wares take their place in a free market economy? If there is any line at all over which dangerous products that generate unscrupulous profits at the cost of human life should be banned—caffeinated alcoholic beverages are over it.

Combining caffeine and alcohol is, indeed, crazy. It can be lethally crazy, so it's a mistake you may not get to make twice. So don't make it even once. I recall a poster I had hanging on my dorm room in college that read: "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment." We do all need to learn by trying. But unfortunately bad judgment that kills you does not lead to good judgment—it leads only to whatever final judgment we are destined to face, and the anguish of those left behind.

Although The Huffington Post is ostensibly intended for adults, Katz's clueless condescension (and exclamation points!) would offend even a reasonably bright 11-year-old. It is enough to turn you against "sanity and safety" once and for all. Unlike Katz, I do not have an M.D., but I do not think his assertion that anyone who dares to drink an Irish coffee or a rum and coke must be insane qualifies as a medical judgment. As evidence that drinking such a "crazy" combination "has an excellent chance of hurting you, and a fairly good chance of killing you," Katz offers a single datum: an accident in which a 21-year-old who had been drinking Four Loko died after slamming her pickup truck into a telephone pole. He also falsely claims that Four Loko contains "highly concentrated alcohol," when in fact the product, at 12 percent alcohol by volume, is less potent than Chardonnay.

Katz's economic and political analysis is about as strong as his scientific reasoning. He cannot "imagine any argument for such products—except that selling them makes money for someone." But to make money by selling a product requires people who want to buy it, and those people, unlike Katz, clearly see some value in Four Loko and its competitors. Katz likewise finds it hard to "imagine anyone objecting to a ban of such products." In addition to the aforementioned consumers who willingly exchange their money for caffeinated malt beverages, some people believe there is value in letting others indulge such incomprehensible tastes, based on a principled (and self-interested) commitment to liberty. As Katz evidently would be surprised to learn, that commitment extends not only to products that the government banned last week but also to products that the government banned decades ago.

Previous coverage of the Four Loko panic here.

[via Stanton Peele at Psychology Today]