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Why Four Loko Was Banned and Where it Isn’t

Four Loko was originally an alcoholic energy drink. It was malt liquor that contained caffeine, taurine, and guarana and sold in a 24 ounce can. It first came on the market in 2005 and was banned in many states in 2010.

Several different concerns led to the ban of Four Loko. The first is that mixing alcohol and caffeine is dangerous. Caffeine masks the effects of alcohol, making you feel more alert than you normally would after drinking a certain amount. This can lead to drinking too much without realizing it, leading to blackouts and alcohol poisoning.

Alcoholic energy drinks are also associated with a greater likelihood of binge drinking. This is partly because of caffeine’s masking effect and partly because of the deceptively large quantity of alcohol in a can of Four Loko. A 24 ounce can contains about as much alcohol as four or five 12 ounce cans of beer. The caffeine also appeals to people who want to party longer, which is to say some of the negative effects associated with Four Loko are because people who were drinking it were planning to drink a lot anyway.

A final problem with Four Loko is that the company appeared to specifically target a younger demographic, promoting their products on social media and using young-looking models in their advertizing. That’s in addition to adding alcohol to a product–energy drinks–that is already popular among younger consumers. In a settlement with several states’ attorneys general, Four Loko was specifically prohibited from using these tactics to target younger consumers.

These three concerns–that caffeine masks the effects of alcohol, that caffeinated energy drinks are associated with binge drinking, and that Four Loko targeted younger customers–came together in a couple notable incidents leading to Four Loko’s ban. In one incident, nine students, aged 17 to 19, at Central Washington University were hospitalized with dangerously high blood alcohol levels. This led to Four Loko being banned in the state of Washington. In another incident, 17 students and six visitors at Ramapo College in New Jersey were hospitalized, leading to a Four Loko ban on its campus. After that, many other colleges banned the drink as well and soon it was banned by many states and many retailers stopped selling it.  

Four Loko and other varieties are back on the market today in 49 states, but it’s not the same drink originally banned in many states. It has been reformulated without caffeine, guarana, and taurine, so that it is no longer an energy drink at all and so no longer masks the effects of excessive consumption. Also, Four Loko is no longer allowed to use advertising targeted to consumers under 25 years old.

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