Regulation

FTC Thinks Emphasizing That Four Loko Is 5 Drinks in One Can Will Encourage Moderation

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This week the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a final order compelling Phusion Projects, the manufacturer of the fruity malt beverage Four Loko, to change its packaging so that consumers will finally know how totally messed up you can get by polishing off an entire 23.5-ounce can. Was there ever any real confusion on this score? Since volume and alcohol content were clearly listed on every can, and since the FTC complained that Phusion Projects blatantly promoted Four Loko as a fast and economical way to get drunk, probably not.

Yet somehow the FTC became convinced that Phusion Projects "represented, expressly or by implication, that a 23.5 oz can of 11% or12% ABV Four Loko contains alcohol equivalent to one or two regular, 12 oz beers." It must have been a pretty subtle implication, because if you look through the FTC's original complaint you will see that the company never said anything to that effect. "We do not agree with the FTC's allegations regarding these issues," Phusion co-founder Jaisen Freeman said in a statement, but "we consider this agreement a practical way to move forward." The main allegation against Freeman's company boils down to this: By putting 23.5 ounces in one "nonresealable" container, Phusion Projects implied that it was OK for one person to consume it all in one sitting, when public health experts tell us you really shouldn't do that.

FTC

A can of Four Loko contains less alcohol than a bottle of Champagne and less alcohol than some big bottles of craft beer. In terms of intoxicating power, it is equivalent to a few cocktails—or, as the FTC prefers to put it, "4.7 regular beers," by which it means beers with an alcohol content of 5 percent. That is an amount people have been known to consume over the course of an evening without any deleterious effects. But let us accept the FTC's premise that no one should be drinking a whole can of Four Loko by himself. How do the packaging changes it has foisted upon Phusion Projects serve to discourage that allegedly reckless practice? First, Four Loko containers henceforth will be resealable, which should be quite effective if the desire to avoid waste, as opposed to the desire to get wasted, is the main reason people drink the entire can. Second, Four Loko containers will carry an "alcohol facts" panel listing, in addition to the volume and strength information that was on the old cans, "servings per container" (4.7) and serving size (five ounces), accompanied by this statement: "According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, a serving contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol."

Assuming that Four Loko consumers care how many ounces of pure alcohol the federal government deems to be a serving, and assuming they are prepared to do the math required to convert pure alcohol ounces into beverage ounces based on alcoholic strength, that last piece of information will be very useful to them. Likewise "serving size," assuming they are pouring their malt beverage into a measuring cup. As for the declaration that one can is 4.7 servings, one can imagine how it might backfire. As I suggested in Reason last year, advertising that a can of Four Loko is equivalent to five drinks calls further attention to the product's most controversial attraction.

Apparently I was not the only person to think of that. The FTC originally proposed a more prominent statement saying, "This can has as much alcohol as 4.5 regular (12 oz. 5% alc/vol) beers." But Reuters reports that the commission thought better of that idea:

The FTC said it had earlier considered requiring alcohol information on the fronts of cans. But it said some commentators feared this could encourage binge drinking, by promoting Four Loko as "an efficient, inexpensive way to become inebriated."

Solution: Put the same information on the can, but make it so inconspicuous that no one will notice it. This is the FTC's idea of a balanced approach to consumer protection.

The FTC's order is the second federal crackdown on Four Loko. The first, by the Food and Drug Administration, resulted in its decaffeination, through a completely rational, science-based process that I chronicled in Reason two years ago.

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27 responses to “FTC Thinks Emphasizing That Four Loko Is 5 Drinks in One Can Will Encourage Moderation

  1. …we consider this agreement a practical way to move forward.

    Like the husband who agrees to rent What to Expect When You’re Expecting just to end the endless discussion of what to watch tonight. HAPPY VALENTINES DAY EVERYBODY.

    1. That sounds a little to specific to be pulled from the ether. Tell us where she hurt you, FOE.

      Did she make you rub her feet while you guys watched it?

      Did you have white wine spritzers and quinoa?

      And happy Hallmark day to you as well.

      1. I didn’t get anything “special” for my birthday.

        1. March 14th can be your day, FoE.

  2. How are we gonna justify our budget this year?

    I know. Let’s find a company that doesn’t really have a lot of clout anyway and make them do a Chinese fire drill!

    See how fierce and mighty we are? We’re gonna need an even bigger budget next year!

    1. Who the fuck says we’ll have a budget?

  3. Also, in case anyone was wondering:

    Yes. To all four of them. Successively or in any combination.

    1. As soon as I saw that picture I thought “Oh yeah, this picture. Last time it was up I rated which order I’d prefer. I wonder if it’d by the same if I did it again.”

  4. lol, the FTCZ is about as useless as the TSA lol

    http://www.AnonWeb.da.bz

  5. This is the start of the nibble for alcoholic drinks. The FTC is using this opportunity – a company that has no real friends to protect it, which is marketing a non-traditional beverage that appeals to stupid young people (mostly men) – to enforce a nudge label.

    Once it gets 4LOKO to put this label on the can, look for some other nanny/retro-prohibitionist(an academic or an NGO) to do a “study” that shows how effective it was on reducing 4LOKO consumption. If 4LOKO goes out of business, then all the better. Once they have one data point, they will press to have all alcoholic beverages use similar labels.

    It is the start of the nibble – a very effective progressive technique.

    1. Oh, and if any of you doubt this, let me tell you a story. My health insurance company has a scam to gather info about my lifestyle – they give me a credit card with $35 on it that I can spend on deductible healthcare items if I complete an annual “health assessment”. So I did, and I truthfully stated that my wife and I regularly split a whole bottle of wine almost every night, with our dinner.

      Of course, when the computer-driven health assessment heard this, it told me that I was drinking much too much, and should consider cutting down. It even offered provide counseling, if I wanted, to “help” me cut down on my alcohol consumption.

      So, the neo-prohibitionists are everywhere, and they are determined to control drinking, because they are sure that any amount of alcohol consumption “could he harmful”. They are not going to stop. They are going to use the nibble, and any other nudging techniques they can think of to make us all behave the way they think we should.

      After all, it is all for our own good. And for the children, as well…

      1. This is a great post to unleash the newly minted Groovy Medical Iron Laws.

        It’s not just “for your own good”, it’s risk mitigation, rxc.

        1) “You don’t have to drink orange juice”

        You obviously don’t have to drink wine to survive day to day, based strictly on this self-reported HX. The insurance actuaries know this (they know your HX), and have adjusted risk accordingly.

        2) “0% liability of you is 100% ownership of yourself”

        If you don’t want the insurance company telling you your health habits I suggest you drop them as an insurance provider and self-pay.

        3) “Infectious disease is a bright line”

        Alcoholism is obviously not an infectious disease (you can’t kiss someone, cough on them, or fuck them and give them alchoholism via semen or blood), but can be a contributing factor in your genetics and passing along a so-called “Alcoholic Gene” to progeny.

        4) “In medicine, exception makes the rule”

        Any factor of your medical HX can be either augmented or potentiated with chronic alcohol consumption.

        5) “Everyone has a medical hobby horse”

        You have a quite a few here, but let’s stick with one: You don’t want the insurance company telling you what to do and you wish to drink alchohol.

        (cont.)

        1. (cont. and fuck the HTML tag FAIL!)

          The insurance company has one as well: They want to mitigate their risk (and insurance actuaries are pretty damn accurate, as are life insurance actuaries).

          6) “Nature v. Nurture?: Always answered yet continually confounded”

          Do you have an “Alcoholic Gene”? Is it possible to, “Drink yourself into alchoholism?” Reliable studies both suggest strong correlations supporting both.

          7) “The payer rules the play”

          Whenever someone other than you is paying for your care, they have every moral, legal, medical, and fiduciary right to dictate your care. Full stop.

          The “annual health assessment” is the contractual agreement based on you telling the truth and not committing insurance fraud, and they are assigning risk accordingly.

          Folks, are you sure you want Watson or another AI doing your DX?

    2. I have no doubts about this. Historically, the TTB (formerly ATF) and FDA have been fighting a turf war over alcohol, with the TTB winning. Until recently, the FDA was entirely not involved. Guess who has slowly been involving themselves more and more the last decade? Brewers now face both TTB and FDA inspections.

      TTB is straightforward and honest, they just want to protect their excise tax payments.

  6. The 22 oz bomber is a standard size for many American craft beers, especially big beers.

    The 750 ml (25.4 oz) is standard for Belgian beers, many of which are also high ABV.

    Interesting that 4 Loko is being picked on here.

    1. They can have my Chimay when they pry it from my unconscious, drunken hands.

  7. The brunette is thinking: “Damn I’m cute.”

    The blonde is thinking: “I bet the brunette wishes she was blonde.”

    The Asian girl is thinking: “Notice me! I’ll do anything if only you’ll notice me!”

    The redhead is thinking: “I will eat your soul.”

    1. What the standard rule for a group of female friends?

      The smart one, the hot one, the fat one and the slutty one?

      Not sure where soul eater falls into that.

      1. Look at the look on her face.

        She CLEARLY worships Cthulu.

        1. Im not disagreeing with you.

        2. I’d let her play with my Deep Ones.

      2. Me either. I’m just glad to see the Spice Girls gettin’ some work

    2. My first thought was, I’ll take the Asian. As usual.

  8. Blondie, Asian, brunette, soul-eater. I’m not into blondes particularly, but that girl looks fun.

  9. For anyone who cares our ‘studies’ on mixing new 4LOKO with half of a 5 hour energy have produced mixed results. All participants reported massive hangovers consistent with old 4LOKO. However there were no reported arrests, and far fewer embarrassing facebook pics. ….
    Our scientists are dissapointed

    1. The most impressive thing is that you could actually drink that without gagging.

      1. Only the first few sips are bad. After that all taste buds numbed into submission.

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