How many people follow up a heavy night of drinking with some coffee? How many restaurants serve coffee and desert right after dinners where diners could have been pounding down the vino? How many folks put a little booze in their morning “cup of joe?” How many beer enthusiasts can’t get enough of those coffee stouts or a chocolate porters? All of these things mix alcohol and caffeine, yet we don’t hear lawmakers calling for these items and practices to be banned by the FDA. What we hear are calls from lawmakers across the country hysterically calling for the ban of alcoholic energy drinks like Four Loko.
Michigan was the first state to outright ban alcoholic energy drink Four Loko. They were followed by Washington on Wednesday when the state’s Liquor Control Board banned all similarly caffeinated malt liquor drinks. A bill to ban the drinks is pending in New Jersey, and a calls for a ban are coming from New York and Oregon as well. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Commission recently asked its licensed sellers to voluntarily stop selling and promoting alcoholic energy drinks. At a city council meeting in Chicago, this week council members proposed a citywide ban of premixed alcoholic caffeinated drinks. This follows the hospitalization of several college students around the nation who reportedly drank the beverage Four Loko and became ill. A few died.
While these incidents are sad, it is no justification for governments to ban the product that most consumers have enjoyed without incident. There is zero scientific evidence that mixing caffeine and alcohol has deleterious effects and in fact there are many decades of evidence to the contrary. It is cheap and easy to drink (for most), which is one reason it is popular among young adults. Young adults are notorious for drinking to access and thus you have Four Loko in the hands of many students going overboard. Politicians are all too happy to use the demonization of a product as a quick and easy way to improve their approval ratings, but banning a product “for our own good” based purely on hysteria is a dangerous precedent to set.
Like it or hate it Four Loko ought to be defended right alongside the individual’s right to choose what he or she drinks and how much. If we let the government ban a product because it could potentially be abused, that opens the way for a limitless number of product bans “for our own good.” Personally, I think my interest is served best when I determine what’s good for me rather than self-righteous busybodies and power-hunger bureaucrats.
CEI saw this wave of misguided, manufactured outrage coming. Earlier this year, we published a study on alcohol energy drinks (AEDs) by Baylen Linnekin, “Extreme Refreshment Crackdown,” on FDA’s continued harassment of AED manufacturers and the lack of evidence supporting their alarmist claims.