Nov. 2, Oklahoma placed a ban on the sale of any pre-mixed “alcoholic energy drinks (PAEDs),” such as the popular Four Loko drink, pending “the safety of these products.” Nov. 11, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire announced a state ban on alcoholic energy drinks, citing an incident in which nine underage teenagers were hospitalized after consuming Four Loko. Nov. 14, New York Gov. David Paterson reached an agreement with Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko, to stop selling the drink in New York City. Utah and Michigan have also banned or have limited access to these drinks.
According to the manufacturer’s website, Four Loko comes in a 23.5 ounce can and has either 6 percent or 12 percent alcohol content by volume. Four Loko is one of many PAEDs currently available, including Joose, Tilt, Sparks and Catalyst. Critics claim mixing caffeine with alcohol can be deceiving because the caffeine masks the level of intoxication the person is experiencing.
This government crackdown on PAEDs is misguided and ineffective for three main reasons. First, a ban does nothing to stop people from mixing caffeine and alcohol, which the ban claims is the main danger of PAEDs. Second, the government has no right to declare what is in the public’s best interest or what an individual should or should not consume. Third, the government should not pick and choose what it should and should not regulate in a reactionary manner.
First, the various government bodies trying to ban PAEDs are citing the combination of alcohol and caffeine as the main reason PAEDs should be pulled from shelves. However, this ban does nothing to address that problem, it simply makes buying PAEDs illegal. A consumer could buy a Red Bull and bottle of Jägermeister to make a Jägerbomb, which has similar effects to a PAED, but not buy the two already mixed together. Caffeine is already a very common ingredient in many mixed drinks and shots, and PAEDs just make it more convenient because it’s pre-mixed. Buying PAEDs is even arguably safer than having consumers mix the drinks themselves because the ingredients and alcohol volume are listed on the can and the consumers know exactly what they are consuming.
Second, the authority to declare what is in the citizens’ best interest is the responsibility of the citizen, not the government. The government’s responsibility is to present citizens with the necessary information for them to make an informed decision regarding their personal behavior. The government requires warning labels, ingredient listings and an age limit on PAEDs, all presenting consumers with the information they should take into consideration. The government declaring what is in a person’s best interest is dangerous territory and could lead to further invasive government regulations. Smoking has been scientifically proven to cause multiple diseases, but the government allows citizens to make the choice whether or not to smoke cigarettes. Yes, many Americans make bad choices, but that’s their own fault, not the government’s.
Third, the government cannot pick and choose what it regulates. Patterson only pursued banning the sale of Four Loko, and none of the other PAEDs. This effectively does nothing to address the problems associated with PAEDs, but merely satisfies critics of Four Loko. What makes Four Loko different from all the other PAEDs, which Patterson did not ban the sale of? Nothing. It’s just more popular. Gregoire banned PAEDs in Washington only after the hospitalization of nine Central Washington University students made national news. All nine of these students were first-years and under the age of 21, the minimum age stated on the can to consume the beverage. However, Gregoire wanted to calm public outcry and banned PAEDs in the state. Reactionary regulations and laws are a dangerous precedent for governments to set and have few long-term advantages. Many of the actions pursued by the various states in banning or regulating PAEDs show little concern for the root causes of underage drinking or binge drinking and instead place the responsibility solely on the drink manufacturer.