The Beatles, The Jeffersons, and Four Loko - all good things must come to an end. So far five states have banned the drink and the number is rising as North Carolina is expected to join the ranks, many cities have enforced restrictions while waiting for their state to follow suit, and soon the FDA is expected to regulate the issue nationwide. On Monday, Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control sent a letter to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers asking them to voluntarily discontinue their relationships with the drink and they are required to send ABC a response within 15 days explaining steps that will be taken to get alcoholic energy drinks off the shelves. However, Four Loko is not the only drink being targeted, and these beverages, along with their controversy, have been around a while.
Four Loko, if you haven't been around a 20-something partier lately, is a 24 proof drink that contains caffeine in its brightly colored can just shy of 24 ounces. The FDA says that mixing alcohol and caffeine is dangerous because the caffeine makes a person feel less intoxicated so they are likelier to consume too much alcohol. Before the days of Four Loko, similar drinks like Sparks were targeted. Controversy of this magnitude has stirred up because hundreds of college students across the country have gone to hospitals due to over consumption, and nicknames like "liquid cocaine" and "blackout in a can" doesn't serve its cause very well. Amid pressure, MillerCoors, the maker of Sparks, removed caffeine and other "energy ingredients" from their recipe in 2008. Looking back on when Sparks existed in its original formula, the only people I personally saw with a can were 19 or 20-years-old.
Caffeine and alcohol are a popular combination (Redbull and vodka, anyone?) at bars, but you'd be hard pressed to find a Four Loko anywhere other than a store. The product is usually sold at liquor stores and the FDA has joined the conversation because it believes that the drink is being marketed to a young age group and its taste, that of melted Smarties candies, definitely makes it seem more appealing to a younger crowd (Phusion, the company that makes Four Loko, says that they support responsible drinking, of course). Lawmakers say these companies infringe on a congressional act moderating the marketing of these products.
Indiana liquor stores have independently decided not to sell Four Loko although it is still technically legal in the state. Southern Indiana Four Loko-lovers can hop across the bridge and stock up in Louisville where it's still available. The contradiction in regulations in state border regions is an issue that has arisen with other products like the marijuana-substitute K2, which is currently still sold in New Albany while being illegal in Louisville (the New Albany city council is currently trying to ban K2). This could be why Kentucky has quickly followed Indiana's suit in this effectual ban. The ban applies to all caffeinated alcoholic beverages, not just Four Loko.
Most people who have had a night out with Four Loko, or a similar product, have stories of obliteration, and most people who has been around someone drunk of the stuff have stories of frustration and annoyance of dealing with young partiers that get very drunk very fast, and it's only the beginning. However, the general reaction around Kentuckiana has been one of upset that the government is so restricting, or ridicule. Most of the #fourloko Twitter feed from this region talked about stocking fridges like it's some kind of an apocalypse.
It is clearly a matter of time until all alcoholic energy drinks will go the way of Sparks and the dinosaurs, but there will soon be a new drinking or drug fad that will take over. If jungle juice has proven anything it is that people, especially college-age kids, will find a way to get messed up quickly and satisfy the sweet tooth. As for Four Loko, Phusion has announced that they are reformulating as well and will no longer add any caffeine or similar ingredients to their drink in an attempt to stay afloat.
Photo courtesy: Four Loko