Is Four Loko Really “Legalized Cocaine In A Can”?
Teens have been hospitalized from it, silly rap tribute videos have been made about it and drinkers from other countries are petitioning to have it distributed on their 7-Eleven shelves as it is here in the States. We’re talking about Four Loko, an energy-plus-alcohol beverage that’s seen by a growing audience of young consumers as the easiest way to get a potent, cheap buzz.
According to reports, one can of Four Loko “can make you do some crazy things.” Each 23.5 oz. can—priced at approx. $2.50—contains 12-percent malt-based alcohol in addition to high amounts of caffeine and sugar, a significant amount when compared to the average mixed drink or beer at roughly five percent alcohol. Many convenience stores don’t even sell Four Loko as part of the beer section, dangerously stocking it amongst other brightly-designed cans of energy drink where it’s easily mistaken for iced tea or fruit punch. (Fruit punch is one of the flavors of the drink, in addition to grape, orange, watermelon, blue raspberry, lemonade, cranberry and cranberry lemonade).
The Four Loko name is derived from its four other ingredients: caffeine, taurine, guarana and wormwood—the latter being an active ingredient in absinthe, the anise-flavored, high-proof spirit. In 2009, the brand ranked fourth in sales growth among alcoholic beverages at 7-Eleven stores nationwide behind first-ranked Joose.
According to the Wall Street Journal, attorneys general in Connecticut, New York, California, and other states are investigating the potential health risks of the drink, along with the marketing practices used to sell it. Back in December 2008, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, manufacturers of similar drinks Tilt and Sparks, agreed to reformulate their drinks. Last year Phusion Projects, the makers of Four Loko, fell under investigation because of their significant rise in market share since the brand’s creation in 2005. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Phusion and over two dozen other brewers and distillers whose drinks contained the “intentional addition of caffeine” that it was looking into the safety and legality of their beverages. These companies may now be forced to discontinue products such as Four unless they can prove the addition of caffeine to alcohol is “generally recognized as safe.”
Four Loko has thousands of Facebook fans. Comments left on the brand’s fanpage are full of teenage bravado (“Dude, I drank six cans last night!”) and glowing tributes (“This is the greatest invention in tha f*ckin world…drink at least 1 a day ♥.”) The drink is a particular favorite among young adults in urban markets. It costs next-to-nothing and while it’s pretty much guaranteed to give you a nightmare experience the next morning (alcohol poisoning has been seen in numerous cases, even after just one can), its popularity is growing by the day—so much so “artists” are dedicating entire songs to it, like the one below: