Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Four Loko Bans An Example of Government Gone Too Far

It's been in the news lately that many states (Massachusetts and Michigan, for example) are working on and/or announcing bans on alcoholic energy drinks, the most notable one being Four Loko. The bans come because they believe these drinks are a danger following stories about people ending up in the hospital or nearly dead following the abuse of these drinks, along with other alcohols. The FDA this week stated it was planning to declare the combination of alcohol and caffeine "unsafe," and that it could order a ban / seizure of the products (news story).

It should be noted that alcoholic energy drinks have been on the shelves for years. Additionally, people can mix alcohol and energy drinks themselves. Red Bull + Vokda is a popular drink at many bars. At The Pour House in Boston, I tried and enjoyed a drink called The Rejuvenator, which featured the combination of flavored vodka, Red Bull, and Gatorade. I didn't vomit, pass out, black out, or die as a result, because I drank in moderation. I'm sure that if I had 20 drinks in an hour, it would be a different story. In another example, we have a politician in New York who decided to experience Four Loko first hand, doing so in a foolish fashion where he throws up because he had over two and a half of Four Loko in an hour. He basically drank the equivalent of a glass of wine every five and a half minutes for an hour. Had he had one can, he probably would have been fine.

Alcohol is restricted in all 50 states to people of age 21 or higher*. Like tobacco, the decision to drink an alcoholic beverage is one that an adult should be able to make on his or her own. The government shouldn't decide what you can drink, you should decide. What the government's role should be is to make sure that people are able to make an informed decision. That is why I propose that the same standards requiring nutritional data and ingredient disclosure in food be applied to alcoholic beverages. If a can of iced tea has to have nutritional data and an ingredient list, then a can of Four Loko should too. Alcoholic beverages should not receive a special pass from the requirements of other beverages. Perhaps in addition to the normal warning from the Surgeon General on alcoholic beverages, an additional warning about the caffeine / alcohol should be added. In the end, though, if people choose to ignore these warnings, that should be their right and their freedom as an American living in what is supposed to be a free country.

*A future blog will likely discuss the topic of the age 21 drinking age, which has many problems and actually has led to greater rates of alcohol abuse in the United States than in other developed countries with lower drinking ages.

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