Should the Government Continue to Pick on Four Loko?


Last year the FDA, working alongside the Treasury Department's Tax & Trade Bureau and the FTC, wrongly banned Four Loko and other beers by prohibiting them from directly adding caffeine to their beverages. Facing insurmountable government pressure, Four Loko did exactly as the government demanded and removed the caffeine, then continued to sell its caffeine-free products. Case closed.

Or not! Fast forward about a year to the present. People continue to make all sorts of claims about Four Loko, linking it to everything from a police shooting to ineffective convenience store robbery getaways. News outlets still breathlessly do things like reproduce press releases issued by breathless attorneys general verbatim, and still top them with their own scare headlines like "Four Loko's size too devious for average customer, must be stopped!"

All the chatter comes as Four Loko is on the verge of a settlement with the FTC. Under the settlement–approved by the unamious vote of five FTC commissioners–Four Loko will admit no wrongdoing over marketing and labeling of the alcohol content of its beverages. Four Loko will also add still more alcohol-content information to its cans, which already boast a half-dozen different statements in at least ten locations describing Four Loko's alcohol content and the fact consumers must show an identification to purchase the drink. And Four Loko will debut a resealable can.

Phew. Case closed.

Or still not! Though this is obviously sufficient for the FTC, the settlement is subject to public comment. And some groups want the FTC to press Four Loko to make even more concessions. Like what? Eat Drink Politics, a new group headed by my friend and frequent sparring partner Michele Simon, a public-health lawyer, alleges in comments filed last month that there are a host of so-called problems with Four Loko, including that the drink "will still be sold in 23.5 cans, with up to12% alcohol, with sweeteners." This argument also echoes the general complaint of respondent-advocates that the Four Loko can is simply too… big.

Well, one man's flaw is another man's feature. After all a bottle of champagne can contain just as much alcohol, can taste just as sweet, and is also not sold in a resealable container. But I have yet to come across an FTC consent order on champagne marketing, nor have I seen well-heeled college professors like Marion Nestle (a co-signer of the Eat Drink Politics comment) rallying the public-health community against champagne. And I suspect that this may have something to do with the fact champagne is a symbol of wealthy celebration, while Four Loko is one of twenty(oneplus)something celebration.

Thumb through Reason's voluminous coverage of the assault on Four Loko here. And read my pre-prohibition analysis of the rationale behind banning Four Loko here.

Check out the Federal Register notice on the proposed settlement here. You can submit your own comments (brief, long, whatever) on the matter here. Read comments that have already been submitted (both in favor of and against the proposed FTC action) here.

And here's a great video looking at why Four Loko was banned in the first place.

Baylen Linnekin is the director of Keep Food Legal, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and increasing "culinary freedom," the right of all Americans to grow, sell, prepare and eat foods of their own choosing. To join or learn more about the group's activities, go hereTo follow Keep Food Legal on Twitter, go here; to follow Linnekin, go here.