Recently Globe reporter Peter Schworm and I tried Four Loko for the first time. We both came to the same conclusion that it's awful and offensive to anyone who enjoys good beer. We were not impressed with this caffeine-injected alcoholic drink. It tastes like something between watered down fruit punch and a burnt Jolly Rancher crossed with a touch of cough syrup. Schworm, who tried it almost a week ago, even "grimaced in disgust" while consuming it, writing that he felt he betrayed the Long Trail brews waiting in his fridge. It kicked around in my empty stomach and was possibly responsible for a headache but it didn't kill me. It did make me question whether the Eagles really did score that many points against the Redskins.
There are many videos of people drinking Four Loko or talking about their experiences with Four Loko on the internet. Most of them are not suitable for Boston.com so I would encourage you to search YouTube and you'll find endless entertainment.
The makers of Four Loko could not have paid for better advertising in the last 24 hours. Their product has dominated the local news cycle ever since WBZ broke the news that the state is going to ban it. Now local officials are trying to get camera time and act as if they're saving us all from the impending string of Four Loko related deaths.
The deadly incidents involving the drink that I could find involved only underage drinkers or external factors like diet pills. So this drink is loosely related to the death of two underage individuals, possibly a third. I don't think that warrants sudden local outrage (or now federal) over this drink. The leading target of the proposed ban is clearly underage yutes and college students, not the responsible adults who can consume alcohol without dying.
According to a 2006 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism "approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking." The two leading types of death are murder and drunk driving. According to the report, binge drinking is increasingly common with underage drinkers and nearly 75% of high school seniors have consumed alcohol. The report praises programs like The Massachusetts Saving Lives Program as a great way to reduce underage drinking and improve awareness. The report says little about banning the sale of certain types of alcohol beverages.
A 2008 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said that over 40% of underage drinkers received alcohol from someone over 21. Over 6% of those surveyed indicated that their parents or guardians gave them alcohol. There have been a number of high profile incidents in Massachusetts where parents hosted a party and provided alcohol to underage kids. Some saw this as a problem so social host laws were toughened to hold parents or the oldest person present at a party legally responsible, in addition to the minors in attendance.
So if kids are going to drink alcohol and in many cases their parents or older siblings will enable them, what will banning a product that few consume do for the fight against underage drinking? Probably nothing. Banning this product might prevent a few kids from learning a possibly embarrassing lesson in college. Will the ban prevent a death? I doubt it. College kids are creative when it comes to drinking and could easily buy cases of Red Bull and vodka and replicate the effect of drinking a Four Loko. Plus they could easily buy (or in the case of many, have someone else buy) the various other sweet alcoholic drinks like liqueur, Jack and Cola in a can, or Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
If people really want to prevent underage drinking deaths banning a disgusting alcoholic beverage in a reactionary fit is not the way to do it.
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