The FDA Ban on Four Loko – Why The FDA Isn’t Going To Take Your Rum And Coke Away

It’s been exactly a week since my last article on Four Loko (“Wilmington Takes A Harder Look At Four Loko”) and in that time a lot has changed. In fact, Four Loko went from being a potential menace (especially if you drink more than one) and college party favorite to a banned drink. How exactly did this happen so fast?

Well, actually, it didn’t happen that fast. According to Discover Magazine (in 2009) the FDA requested proof that the caffeinated alcohol drinks were safe back in 2009. The list of companies notified to look into their products’ safety is here. State regulators did not wait for the FDA – Michigan, New York, and Utah among other states banned the sale of Four Loko in their state before the FDA sent their warning letter on November 17.

Four Loko can cause violent behavior in students due to its high powered blend of alcohol and caffeine.

Students that drink Four Loko are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior, according to Federal officials.

These facts, and other developments (hospitalizations of binge drinking students, a study that showed that caffeinated alcohol drinks cause more sexual violence and more dangerous behavior in general) led to a not so rosy outlook for Four Loko and its kind. In fact, on Nov. 16 Phusion Products, the makers of Four Loko, presumably anticipating the FDA’s letter, announced they were removing caffeine, guarana, and taurine from their drinks.

The reaction to this was somewhat predictable.  Philly Post writer Jeff Billman in his article “Leave Four Loko Alone” said:

“But: Do you really think that banning Four Loko, or anything else for that matter, is going to stop kids from figuring out that if they chug a Red Bull in between sessions of Coors Light or Jose Cuervo or whatever cheap vodka comes in plastic jugs and in bulk from the BJ’s across the state line in Delaware, they’ll be able to stay awake longer and, consequently, drink more? I had that figured out well before the advent of Four Loko, and I can assure you that, in this, the information age, the kids today are much better informed on these things than I was as a college frosh in 1997. If I want a particularly late-night bender—a rarer and rare occurrence these days—downing one of those five-hour energy shots does the trick. Oh, and those are totally legal. So is downing one, and following it with six shots of Jack Daniel’s.”

Er, yes, that is true.  But comparing a five-hour energy shot with Four Loko is unfair.  After all, a five-hour energy shot does not contain alcohol.  Nor is it packaged with alcohol, and my guess would be if the packaging expressed that it works well with six shots of Jack Daniel’s that they would be receiving a letter from the FDA as well.  Vague comparisons of dissimilar products aren’t going to get you very far.

Meanwhile, over at the Miami New Times, you could hear Kyle Munzenrieder make the “nanny state” argument:

“In a treacherous blow to the personal freedoms of Americans and Capitalism itself the FDA is expected to ban the sale of caffeinated alcohol drinks as soon as next week. Yes, alcohol and caffeine, two perfectly legal and widely available substances will not be allowed to be sold together in one can. The move comes after in the midst of the Four Loko craze.”

You may have a point when you make that argument (I wouldn’t say the ban is necessarily a good or bad thing) but it’s not really fair to make that argument in this manner:

“Researchers are concerned that caffeine counterbalances some of the effects of alcohol and may lead drinkers to believer they are less drunk then they are. That’s a valid point, yet the mixing of the two substances isn’t going away any time soon. While the pre-made mixtures will apparently now be banned, it’s unlikely Americans will stop drinking these find mixtures of caffeine and booze:

Rum and Coke
Vodka and Redbull
Irish Coffee
Espresso martinis
Shots followed by a Five Hour Energy chaser
Cafecito and Cisco”

Yes, Americans are still going to drink rum and coke, but no, that’s not really the same thing. Irish coffee has not been the scourge of college campuses lately. Nor have rum and cokes. Why is that? Because they contain vastly different quantities of caffeine and alcohol. Make a 6.5 oz rum and coke with 40% ABV rum and your drink will contain 0.6 oz of alcohol and 14.5 mg of caffeine. Make a version of it more generously sized and you are still nowhere near Four Loko. This recipe calls for 4 oz of Bacardi white rum (37.5% ABV) and 8 oz of Coca Cola (35 mg of caffeine in a 12 oz can). This drink will probably cost you more at the bar, and still only have 23.3 mg of caffeine and 1.5 oz of alcohol (4 oz x .375). This is compared to Four Loko, which has one serving size (23.5 oz) and contains 156 mg of caffeine and 2.82 oz of alcohol. Even two of those hefty rum and cokes wouldn’t have as much caffeine as a Four Loko. I don’t that anyone ever binges on Irish Coffees, but if you are drinking an average sized Irish Coffee (a 7.5 oz serving, plus cream on top) you’re only going to consume about 0.6 oz of alcohol and 90 mg of caffeine. Again, just not the same.

Four Loko does not stack up against other mixed drinks in terms of caffeine - it stacks over.

Four Loko, towering over the competition.

The other problem in Four Loko land (as we’ve pointed out before) is the serving size. It’s a carbonated beverage so once you crack open the can, you’re more or less forced to consume/get rid of it or have it go flat. Unlike vodka (which Arrested Development’s Lindsay Bluth memorably and mistakenly believed “goes bad once it’s opened”) Four Loko cannot really be consumed in moderation. Fortunately we can cap our whiskey, rum, and vodka bottles. In fact, that’s part of the design – if vodka was packaged to “go bad” within a few hours, you can bet it wouldn’t be on the market.

Was the ban the smartest thing ever? That seems to me to be another debate. It also seems to me that comparing a mixed drink like a rum and coke to Four Loko does not have a place in that debate. After all, Four Loko is a real product on a real shelf – nobody is selling rum and cokes in a can. The FDA’s job is to regulate real products. And again, if they did sell rum and coke in a can, that would probably have not caught the FDA’s attention – if the can was 12 oz instead of 23.5. Caffeine and alcohol together are not necessarily going to send you to the hospital or make you have a violent freak out, but moderation when consuming the two simultaneously is more even important than when consuming one or the other separately. Phusion Products ended up creating a product that fell a little far outside the lines of moderation. Four Loko is just oversized in almost every sense (except price, which Cord Jefferson thinks may’ve played a role in its being banned). My guess is that if Phusion Products had not tried to create the craziest thing on the market, their product would probably still be on the market.

Post by Robyn Schelenz. Have any thoughts, comments, or disagreements you wish to share? Send me an email over at robyn at and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Headline photo by Ted S. Warren/Associated Press.

Wilmington Takes A Harder Look At Four Loko

Four Loko, the high alcohol high energy drink, has received a lot of attention lately (including from us – see “Alcoholic Energy Drinks More Than Most Can Handle” for more).  There has been some new discussion locally as North Carolina contemplates doing what New York state recently did by banning the drink. At the moment Governor Perdue has asked manufacturers to voluntarily stop selling alcoholic energy drinks in the state.

The University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Substance Abuse and Prevention Office notes that most of the kids on campus caught drinking have been drinking Four Loko (WECT 6).  The students of the school interviewed for the article made clear that it is potent stuff.  It does, after all, have a 12% alcohol content and enough stimulants in it to mask normal feelings of drunkenness.  But does that warrant a ban?

Why Ban Four Loko?

There are a few arguments on this.  Some have accused Four Loko of intentionally marketing to younger people.  The design on the cans is bright and colorful and looks more or less like any other energy drink you would buy.  By virtue of this association it seems that kids underestimate the punch that each can packs. Which leads us to the second point – the can is almost 24 ounces, twice as large as a beer.  The alcohol content is about three times that of a light beer.  Basically, finish one can of Four Loko (which is only a few dollars – the price is one of its selling points) and you’ll have had the equivalent of a six pack, and jitters on top of that.  You will most likely be drunk, or very drunk. And not only will you have consumed a six pack, you will also have simultaneously consumed the equivalent of two Red Bulls. Why’s that? Because one 8.3 oz can of Red Bull only has 76 mg of caffeine in it…while Four Loko has 156 mg of caffeine.

Four Loko, the latest popular target for college partiers and alcohol testing alike.

Four Loko

Designed For Drinking

That Four Loko is packaged in such a manner is part of the problem.  It is not so much the eye-catching design, but the size of the can that presents the issue (in my mind anyway).  Once you open the can, you’re going to have to drink it or throw it out – it’s a carbonated beverage and will go flat like a soda does if left to sit.  You’re not purchasing a can of the drink to have as an apéritif over a few days.  You’re drinking the whole thing once it’s opened, and as pointed out above, that will definitely make you drunk.  It’s immoderation by design.

The Stimulants

Then you have the fact that the beverage contains a number of stimulants.  Those stimulants are caffeine, taurine, and guarana.  When they mix with alcohol (in this drink and in many others, including cocktails) they can have unexpected effects.  As our previous blog noted, people drinking an alcoholic energy drink believe their motor coordination is better than those who do not have those ingredients in their drink.  If you do not feel as drunk as you are, you may be inclined to continue drinking, and the signals from your body that say you’ve had enough may not be clearly perceived.  This is the aspect of alcoholic energy drinks that leads to hospitalization.  But there are other negative effects too.

One of the stimulants in Four Loko.

Guarana, one of the stimulants in Four Loko.

A study at Wake Forest University in 2006 found that those who mix energy drinks with alcohol are more likely to sexually assault or be sexually assaulted, more likely to get in a car with a drunk driver, and more likely to require medical treatment (see the Daily Collegian for more info).  In other words it’s much more likely that destructive and risk-taking behaviors will be pursued. Aimee Hourigan of the UNCW Substance Abuse and Prevention Office in an interview with WWAY3 noted that “You’re more likely to get into a fight and have other negative consequences related because your body’s just not equipped to handle that much alcohol and stimulant at the same time.”

An Experiment

The actual effect of drinking a Four Loko was measured recently by a local Raleigh woman. Drinking four ounces every half a hour (a pace probably considered slow by college standards), she measured her blood pressure and pulse through the process.  When she started out her blood pressure was 116 over 64; in 4 ounces’ time it went up to 192 over 36 and her heart was racing at 154 beats per minute.  The woman, a registered nurse, had her verdict.  Feeling sick after 8 ounces, she stopped, and told WALB10 news that “if you’re not careful, you could kill yourself with this.”

A Matter of Taste

Finally, in terms of taste, people will disagree, but it seems clear that the drink wasn’t made for delicate meal pairings.  In comes in a number of sugary, fruit like flavors that make it more appealing.  All these factors considered, it’s hard to see that it’s anything other than a product made for binge drinking.

A Question of Law

Does this mean that a ban is required?  It remains to be seen if this is so.  The makers of Four Loko, Phusion Projects, recently published an open letter addressing federal and state inquiry into their beverage.  They do sell a version of the drink that contains less alcohol; it’s foreseeable that they may soon only be allowed to sell that version.  The popularity of the drink on college campuses is a problem somewhat larger than themselves – college binge drinking is always a problem, especially as it often occurs in crowded situations with many inexperienced if not underage drinkers.  Four Loko may be a little too potent for that setting, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t potentially be enjoyed elsewhere.

As Wilmington and North Carolina in general examine this issue, let us know what you think by leaving comments or sending us an email at cs at  We’d love to hear from you (and remember, it’s easy to keep tabs on your BAC with a disposable and portable alcohol test kit).

For more info, including info on the FDA’s inquiry into alcoholic energy drinks, check out Time’s Healthland.

Headline picture by Taggart, originally for the New York Daily News.

Why You Should Alcohol Test Your Employees

It has been estimated that about 70 percent of substance abusers hold jobs. This includes the 18 million alcohol abusers that have been estimated in the United States. Coming to work under the influence of alcohol can cause various concerns and issues. Among them are risks of an accident, reduced productivity, higher levels of health insurance costs and therefore lesser profits and unsafe conditions for everyone.

An alcohol test can help in finding out those who have been abusing alcohol or have come to work under the influence. It has been seen that alcohol abusers like other substance users are more prone to miss work and are also at a much higher risk of being involved in a job accident. This risk obviously is far greater in jobs that require extremely high levels of concentration.

Workplaces that require physical work like driving or managing large equipment, in other words any work that requires the reflexes to be at their best, can benefit from on-site alcohol testing. Since alcohol consumption causes blurred vision and coordination issues, these tasks become difficult for those under the influence. Transportation companies, construction companies, factories, heavy equipment handling companies and others should definitely include alcohol testing as a regular practice to ensure job safety.

Not only are alcohol tests necessary for the job safety of the employees, they also keep the employers away from complicated law suits that tend to follow incidents. It may not be practical to have a laboratory come in and conduct testing every now and then, but the breath analyzer alcohol test is an extremely convenient and accurate one that can get around this problem and literally be used every day.

Educational institutions are also using the alcohol test to ensure that there are no students that come to the campus under the influence of alcohol. This is a necessary measure that is being taken to ensure that proper discipline is maintained in the premises of the school. Hooliganism and unacceptable behavior can be avoided by using the 0.02 percent breath alcohol test.  As a matter of fact, the University of Minnesota, for example, requires season-ticket holding students guilty of previous alcohol offenses to take an alcohol test before they enter the stadium (see the full article at the blog Alcohol Testing).

Small businesses that cannot afford to hire a laboratory for these alcohol tests on a regular basis can ensure that their workplace is devoid of alcoholics. While those with desk jobs may not be at such a high risk of accidents on the job, the short term effects of alcohol can lead to low productivity and bad judgment. Alcohol induced fatigue, insomnia and lack of judgment and false confidence can cause some really wrong decisions to be made.

The home alcohol test is also something that educational institutions and corporate offices can use to ensure that the employees are clean and not under the influence of alcohol when they report. These alcohol tests are simple and can give results in a matter of seconds.

The 0.02 percent breath analyzer is a great piece of zero-tolerance equipment that can detect alcohol that has been consumed in the past hours. It is also a convenient thing to use to decide whether it is safe to drive or not rather than calculating the number and type of drinks consumed before getting behind the wheel.

Such alcohol tests not only provide a great way to pick out alcohol abuse at the workplace, they are a significant help in deterring teenagers from indulging in alcohol too.

– Anne Hamilton

Alcohol Test to Control Drunk Driving

The holiday season is considered to be one of the most hectic times for police and traffic departments due to the significant increase in impaired or drunk driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are more than 1000 people in America who are killed across the country in highway crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year. Despite the various campaigns that have been run by parents, social workers, activists and police departments, alcohol abuse and drunk driving do not seem to reduce among teenagers and adults. While there are some who are aware of the dangerous consequences and abstain from driving when drunk, guards seem generally down during the festive season between Thanksgiving and New Year.

Here are some tips that can help you stop drunk driving around you during the holiday season.

– Have a word with your teenagers and explain to them that drinking and driving shall not be tolerated. Make sure that you purchase an alcohol test that can be used at home and convey the message loud and clear to them.

– If you are hosting a party, then you should set the rules about alcohol abuse and driving when drunk upfront. If you feel that most of your guests are likely to drink through the night, make some provision for sleepovers.

– The other thing to do is to designate drivers in your group. You’ll probably have more than one party this holiday season and you can always take turns among your group of friends.

– If you are a worried about the safety of your friends, you could also carry a small alcohol test with you that can be used on the spot to determine whether someone is fit for driving or not. The alcohol tests that you can buy over the counter or online are non-invasive and easy to use. While some alcohol tests are breath analyzers, other may require a saliva sample.

– If you want to help in keeping the roads safe for yourself and your loved ones, call in the local law enforcement authorities and let them know where a dangerous car that you’ve spotted was headed. Drunk driving is not only harmful for those driving the car but also for innocent pedestrians and other vehicle drivers on the road.

– If you feel that someone is about to drive home and you feel that they are drunk try and convince them to take some form of local/public transport. Use an easy to use alcohol drug test like a breath analyzer to help prove to them that they are not fit for driving.

Many lives can be saved if we are only careful about the kind of danger that happens on the roads when people drink and drive. This kind of alcohol abuse can only stop if we are conscious and aware of the devastation such incidents can cause in the lives of people. The use of alcohol tests to ascertain drunk drivers should be encouraged so that the law can be upheld and enforced properly.

5 Advantages to Home Drug Testing

A home drug test is a scientific piece of equipment that allows you to conduct an experiment at home that tells you whether the person from whom the sample is taken has been taking drugs or not. While home drug testing is becoming extremely popular among parents of teens, the drug testing kits are also being used in schools, offices and small businesses.

These home tests can be used to detect harmful drugs like THC (called marijuana, weed, pot or hash), opiates (heroin, morphine or codeine), cocaine (crack or snow), MDMA (ecstasy or X), Amphetamines (speed or uppers) and Benzodiazepines (Valium or Xanax).

A home drug test has various advantages over a test that is done in the laboratory. The top 5 advantages of testing drugs at home are listed below:

1. Faster results – This test can be done within minutes. You do not have to collect the sample, deliver it to the laboratory and then wait patiently for the results to come in. With a drug test kit, you can take a sample and use a disposable drug test to know the answer to the question that has been plaguing you for some time.

2. A deterrence for children – Teenage drug users may try to convince other teenagers that they should give drugs a try because their parents will never find out. Now teens and parents can counter this with an easy retort about the availability of a home drug test at home. This helps in providing children with a convenient way of getting out of a situation and parents an easy way to help buy xenical online their children.

3. Affordable – A urine or a hair follicle drug test is relatively cheaper as compared to a laboratory test. The cost advantage of an at home drug test is evident especially when you look at employers who are using the tests. These employers find the tests easier to pay for and administer – and if the prospective employee fails, the burden falls to them to prove they are drug-free by taking a more expensive laboratory test.

4. Private – A home drug test can also help you maintain your privacy. This is particularly important in smaller towns where you may not want the whole local area to know that you have had drug testing done for your child.

5. Convenient – In addition to all that has been mentioned above home drug testing is extremely easy to use and convenient for all. The item can be carried on a vacation and can be used anywhere. A saliva test or disposable breath alcohol test can simply fit in your pocket and be used without any sort of trouble or invasion of physical privacy.

While drug testing at home has many positives, such kits should be used judiciously. False positives that can be caused by poppy seeds, mouthwashes and medicines can lead to false accusations and therefore knowing the right time of using a home drug test is critical. However, most home drug test kits are FDA Approved (check specific products to be sure) and with upwards of 95% accuracy are a great way to start a conversation about drug use.

Anne Hamilton

Alcohol Testing – Why Is It Done?

The increase in the amount of alcohol testing conducted in this country is something that should have probably happened much earlier. The government agencies are facing up to the fact that alcohol abuse can result in various harmful situations. Since it is possible to avoid such accidents from occurring, a stricter control is being levied on people who drink and abuse the freedom that has been granted to them. Alcohol testing can be done in various ways. The various affordable options include the famous breathalyzer-like breath alcohol test and also a saliva based test.

The effect of high levels of alcohol in the blood has been studied in various laboratory experiments. Other empirical studies have also been conducted to understand how alcohol can affect judgment and action. For example, it is known that a large proportion of highway fatalities occur due to a “drinking and driving” situation. The government legislators and organizations like MADD therefore feel that implementing rules with random alcohol tests can help in reducing irresponsible behavior on the road leading to a safer environment for many innocent people.

Some organizations are now beginning to conduct random alcohol tests at the workplace to ensure that the work environment is safe, sophisticated and sober too. It has been seen that such random alcohol tests that can be done using home alcohol test kits can reduce employee theft, on job injuries, turnover, sexual harassment and violence at the workplace. In addition to this there is also an increase that can be observed in the overall productivity levels.

Each of the alcohol tests attempt to arrive at the level of alcohol in the blood. The most common acceptable measure is BAC or Blood Alcohol Concentration. This is the amount of alcohol in the blood as a percentage of the total blood composition. A BAC of 0.09 indicates that there are 9 parts of alcohol per 10,000 parts of blood. Most state laws specify BAC levels in terms of grams per 100 milliliters of blood. The specific BAC levels that have been defined as permissible are covered under state jurisdiction and therefore differ, but it is a criminal offense in every state in the US to operate a vehicle with a BAC of greater than 0.08.

It is important to note here that an alcohol drug test can only confirm that alcohol abuse has taken place. It does not confirm that the individual being tested is an alcoholic or anything like that. Therefore while the test can be accurately described as an alcohol abuse test, it is surely not a test that can confirm alcoholism or addiction. To illustrate, drinking heavily during a birthday party and then driving home can cause a positive result on a breath alcohol test. However, the test result does not indicate a pattern of abuse.

Regular alcohol tests and random and surprise testing conducted in schools and colleges can keep children and teenagers under check making it difficult for them to illegally procure alcohol and consume it, especially during school hours. Not only are alcohol tests providing a safe environment for all concerned, they are also helping our youngsters lead a better life.

Anne Hamilton