Bureaucrats Gone Loko
By Mark Luedtke
There’s nothing new about the nanny state trying to control the behavior of Americans. Prohibition was passed in 1919 before it was repealed in 1933, but today there are still dry counties across America. The War on Drugs goes back to 1914. But back then, politicians acknowledged constitutional limits on their power. To ban alcohol, they passed a constitutional amendment. Congress didn’t outright ban heroin or cocaine at first; it used its power to tax and to regulate interstate commerce to restrict them. It did the same with marijuana in 1937, calling it a “gateway drug”.
But the federal government doesn’t acknowledge those limits anymore. Congress doesn’t bother itself with banning new products through legislation. It doesn’t bother debating whether a ban of a product is constitutional. Unelected bureaucrats in the executive branch ban them through regulation backed by force of law. Because these bureaucrats are not accountable to voters, they don’t adhere to the rule of law defined by the Constitution, and as a result it seems they ban something new practically every day. And it’s not just bans but arbitrary regulation of products as well, always ostensibly done in our best interest.
Three Ohio State University alumni struck gold in 2005 with their creation of Four Loko, forming the company, Phusion Projects, LLC. Recognizing the growing popularity of energy drinks mixed with alcohol, such as Jagermeister or vodka and Red Bull, at bars, they decided to package one in a can. The entrepreneurs combined malt liquor, caffeine, taurine and guarana into one drink. At 23.5 ounces and 12 percent alcohol, Four Loko is as strong as four beers, one cup of coffee plus an energy drink. They sold for $2 a can near the University of Dayton campus and college students quickly developed a devoted following.
But the mix of four beers’ worth of alcohol, the stimulants and a great taste proved a potent combination. “When people combine the two, they tend to not feel the alcohol as much since the caffeine is keeping them more alert,” Dr. Alissa Rumsey, a clinical dietitian at New York Presbyterian Hospital, told the New York Daily News. “Yet when the caffeine wears off, then the person feels the full effects of the alcohol.”
It was common knowledge that consumers were supposed to have only one, but college students aren’t known for good judgment. Students would drink them faster than other alcoholic drinks, but after drinking two or sometimes three and the energy boost wore off, the alcohol would hit students fast and hard. University of Dayton junior Russ Stafford said, “None of my roommates ever made it to bed when they’ve had a Four Loko,” he said. “They often ended up praying to the porcelain god or blacked out. That’s how Four Loko earned the nickname “blackout in a can.”
Over the years, several incidents have been blamed on Four Loko, causing it to be banned by several universities and states. Ramapo College in New Jersey banned it after nearly two dozen students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after drinking it. New York City police blame Four Loko for a recent anti-gay beating. Nine attendees of a house party at Central Washington University, some of whom were underage, were hospitalized for overdoses blamed on consuming Four Loko.
The FDA threatened to seize all Four Loko and other alcoholic products with caffeine added on November 17 of this year, effectively banning Four Loko in the U.S. But for all the frenzy being whipped up against Four Loko – one author says it’s worse than black tar heroin – there’s remarkably little press about fatalities.
A Maryland woman’s friends blame Four Loko for her death. “After drinking two cans of Four Loko, mourners told WJZ at a memorial service on Thursday night that Courtney Spurry ‘changed,’” the Baltimore CBS affiliate, WSJ-TV reported.
“She could not remember people’s names,” said Abby Sherwood, a friend of Spurry’s. “She was passed out within 30 minutes of having the alcoholic beverage.”
Is the ban justified?
Comparing two anecdotal fatality stories to the 13,846 alcohol- related traffic deaths in the U.S. in 2008 begs the question: why all the fuss over Four Loko? Writing for Reason Magazine, Jacob Sullum provides some perspective, “College students were getting drunk, passing out, going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, and injuring themselves through stupid stunts long before Four Loko and similar products were introduced. I venture to say they will continue to do so even after the evil drink du jour is banned.”
Anybody who drank trash can punch in college knows this. So the product didn’t change anything. Phusion Projects, creators of Four Loko, is already in the process of replacing the banned stimulants in Four Loko and bringing out a new product, and the ban won’t change anything for the better.
Phusion Projects doesn’t accept the blame on its product and highlights important facts ignored by the press in their rush to condemn Four Loko for the incident at Central Washington University.
In a statement, the company said, “No one is more upset than we are when our products are abused or consumed illegally by underage drinkers – and it appears that both happened in this instance. This is unacceptable. But so too is placing blame for the incident squarely on Four Loko when the police report, toxicology reports and witness testimony all show that other substances, including beer, hard liquors like vodka and rum, and possibly illicit substances, were consumed as well. In fact, while our product is mentioned only twice in the 44-page police report, hard liquor, vodka, rum or other alcohol is mentioned at least 19 times; beer is mentioned at least 3 times and illegal drugs or roofies are mentioned at least 14 times – including twice in connection with an individual attending the party with the intention of bringing drugs with him and once in connection with smoking marijuana.”
One wonders what effect arbitrarily restricting the drinking age to 21 has on exacerbating this problem as well.
Alcoholic whipped cream may have already turned Four Loko into last week’s fad with products like Cream and Whipped Lightning on liquor store shelves. The now commonly known “whipahol” brand Cream boasts a 30-proof sticker on the label, meaning it’s 15% alcohol by volume, where similar alcoholic whipped cream brand Whipped Lightening packs a 16-18% alcohol by volume punch. While the product is not as likely to get consumers drunk as quickly and dangerously as Four Loko, health officials believe there is still cause for concern.
The elephant in the room never mentioned in these Four Loko horror stories is lack of personal responsibility. Courtney Spurry’s friends were quick to blame Four Loko for her death, but Four Loko didn’t jump into Spurry’s hand and shoot down her mouth. Spurry drank it voluntarily. And if her friends noticed she was “changed,” and they noticed she had passed out, why didn’t they do something about it? Blaming an inanimate object for a friend’s death is a convenient excuse for the individuals involved to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or lack thereof.
And if mixing alcohol and caffeine is so dangerous, why didn’t the FDA ban all such mixtures? People have been drinking Irish coffee (Irish whiskey poured in coffee) for centuries. Jager bombs (Jagermeister mixed with Red Bull) is one of the most popular drinks at bars. Flavored vodka and Red Bull is another popular bar drink. But these drinks cost $5.50 and up locally, while a Four Loko only costs $2. A case could be made that Four Loko was singled out because it was cheap, and it was taking sales away from politically connected alcohol corporations.
But Four Loko wasn’t the only product banned. Craft beer MateVeza, an Indian Pale Ale brewed with an herb called yerba, which contains caffeine, was banned by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, along with Four Loko. Experimental microbrewers are nervous about whether the FDA will come after them too because some of their ingredients might contain caffeine. The ban takes a significant amount of money out of the pockets of entrepreneurs.
And the consequences don’t stop there. The managers of Speedway, United Dairy Farmers and Sunoco on Brown and Stewart Streets all refused to talk on the record about the Four Loko ban, so the ban chilled free speech. As soon as the ban was announced, students raced to stores and bought up all the Four Loko on the shelves, promoting binge drinking of the product. And the arbitrary nature of this ban begs another question: If the nanny state can arbitrarily ban any product it wants, what else might it ban?
A county legislator in New York is proposing to ban all energy drinks for people under age 19. According to Fox News, Lynne Nowick thinks its government’s job to regulate every consumable substance on earth. “Why put foreign things in your body when you don’t know what’s going into them? The drinks are not regulated.” People under age 19 can drive, get married, vote and go to war, but not drink Red Bull.
Salt, like water and oxygen, is necessary for life. Our blood contains a salt mixture similar to primeval oceans and salt performs many biological functions in our bodies. Yet in April the FDA announced plans to regulate salt as an unsafe substance. The FDA’s plan is to gradually reduce the amount of salt in processed foods over 10 years, so that Americans won’t notice the change. The basis for this proposal is the belief that Americans are eating more and more salt every year, and that this increase in salt leads to increased hypertension and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
But this belief is wrong. According to a recent study by Harvard University, Americans’ salt intake has been constant for 50 years. According to “USA Today,” “The researchers thought they would find that salt intake had increased over time because Americans eat more processed foods today than in 1957. But decade after decade, people consistently consumed about 3,700 milligrams of sodium a day, the data showed.”
“USA Today” also explains the misconception behind the FDA’s plan: “The ongoing U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which provides a snapshot of Americans’ health and nutrition status every two years, regularly suggests that Americans consume more salt now than they did 20 or 30 years ago. However, those data are based in part on survey participants recalling what they ate, rather than on the more accurate urine samples.”
“USA Today” also reports that the Harvard findings match a 24-year study of people in 33 countries, which show that all people all around the world consume nearly the same amount of salt. The implication is people are biologically programmed to consume a certain amount of salt to insure proper body functions, and that subconscious cravings drive us to eat just that amount. Worse, another study discovered that eating too little salt greatly increased the chances of CVD and all forms of death.
Given that the FDA recommends 2,300 mg a day, but the normal consumption found by the Harvard study is 3,700 mg a day, it’s clear the FDA is dangerously off base. But once government has the power to arbitrarily regulate anything, it claims the power to arbitrarily regulate all things. Now reports claim nutmeg is the new gateway drug. Yes, nutmeg. The kind you find in your spice cabinet. When smoked, nutmeg can create a mild high, similar to marijuana. Will regulations on nutmeg follow?
One topic missing from debate over whether the government should regulate or ban anything is morality. Producing, selling, buying and consuming Four Loko, or any other product from heroin to salt, is a peaceful act. Any government regulation or ban on a substance is a threat of violence backed by violence against people engaging in peaceful activity. Government agents employ physical violence against those who refuse to submit to their threat: kicking in their door, pointing guns at them, wrestling them to the ground, binding them in chains and locking them in cages. No individual or group is allowed to force their will on other peaceful individuals at the point of a gun because it’s immoral and dangerous, yet government claims that power. As long as Americans allow government to exercise that power, America cannot be a free country and bureaucrats will continue escalating violence against the people.