It’s a tragic story: a 13-year-old boy falls out of a moving car because he is drunk and opens the door to throw up. Yet, despite the hyperbolic wailing about Four Loko — the drink he happened to be imbibing at the time, the specific drink is not the culprit. Whether it was Four Loko, miller light, or vodka in a coke bottle, the blame lies with the adults who gave or sold him the drink and to a much lesser extent, the society that publicly reviles alcohol while not-too-secretly relishing it.
Michael Truluck, a 13 year-old Baltimorean, is not the first underage alcohol death blamed on Four Loko. In fact, a rash of hospitalizations at one Washington State college that were linked to the drink was the impetus for the FDA to pressure the maker of the drink, Phusion Projects, to remove caffeine from the formula. This is despite the fact that many of the kids were likely drinking other beverages in addition to Four Loko.
Without a doubt, this latest incident will reignite calls for “more regulation” of the drink. What people forget is that the laws that should have prevented this tragedy are already in place. In the state of Maryland, it is illegal to furnish alcohol to a minor unless the child is part of the adult’s immediate family. Any clerk selling to a minor or adult giving a non-relative child alcohol can be prosecuted and fined.
I won’t say that it’s the mother’s fault for not watching her kid 100 percent of the time or the kid’s fault for making a stupid mistake that a lot of other kids have made — most of them are still alive. I will say that it’s was an accident that happens and happens quite often. Many minors experiment with alcohol and many end up doing things they regret. That in this case it was a Four Loko and not any other kind of alcohol is purely coincidence.
People naturally want to deal with a horrible incident by searching for a way to ensure it won’t ever happen again. Of course, that’s impossible. Kids will make reckless decisions no matter how many laws we pass or products we ban. If we want to teach children to respect alcohol and understand its effects, perhaps we ought to stop demonizing alcohol and start talking honestly about the good and the bad, and even start teaching our youngsters how to drink with guidance and supervision.