Friday, January 7, 2011

Koo Koo for Four Loko

Next time you watch your local news, remember this: News Media = Misses the Entire Point.

If you have not seen the news about the drink Four Loko being banned, I will bring you up to speed.

According to various we-have-nothing-else-to-report news organizations, the drink Four Loko is to some, a "blackout in a can" and to others, it is "cocaine in a can." Four Loko, through its "witch brew" mixture of alcohol and caffeine can, according to research (1a), cause a person to become a "wide-awake drunk," and thus impair a person's ability to judge his or her level of intoxication. The negative effects of this drink, which has predominately affected college students, are "spreading like a plague across the country." (1b, 1c).

In all, Michigan, Oklahoma, Washington, Utah, and New York have banned the drink. The FDA evaluated the situation and said that caffeine is an "unsafe food additive" (2). Because of this negative publicity, Fusion Projects has removed the caffeine content from their Four Loko brand.

However, even the removal of caffeine is not enough according to some experts (3). For some strange reason, all of these "experts" reside at Rutgers University:
"When consulted about the combination of caffeine and alcohol in one 24.5 oz. can, Rutgers U. nutritionist and registered dietitian Peggy Policastro explained the concoction’s effects on the body. 'The natural response of the body to alcohol is sleepiness and fatigue,' she said. 'When a stimulant such as caffeine is added, this response is blocked, allowing for the consumer to engage is riskier behavior for longer.'"
Here is an example of how the news covered this "controversy":

I've transcribed the more hyperbolic parts:

The created context is about the dangers of Four Loko (i.e., don't blame irresponsible teenage behavior)
Anchor: "Well, four teens are hospitalized in White Plains, and police say it's all because of a beverage that looks like an energy drink."
 Exaggerate the affects of the this witch brew (i.e., It's PCP in a can )
Field Reporter: "Cops and kids say just one can of Four Loko can make you do crazy things."
Cue expert, er, teenager who can attest to the affects of Four Loko
Dumb Teen: "I've seen people have half of it, and they're gone...and if you have a whole one, you're...way gone."
Cue inappropriate comparison to another beverage
Field Reporter: "That's because just one can of it has an alcohol content of 12% while the average mixed drink or beer has just 5%."(Note: Wine also has a 12% alcohol content)
Cue Morgan Rolland, a responsible teenager who has never drank Four Loko because "she's 19, and she's diabetic" (I bet she's a virgin too). Also note at the 50 second mark that there is a bunch of alcohol just behind her chair.
Dumb Teen: "I've seen a man get very drunk off just one, and he's like a hundred and like 95 pounds and he was gone."
Cue stupidity
Field Reporter: "What's more scary is that you can pretty much buy this anywhere, and in some stores, it's not even listed in the beer section."
 Just the Facts:

Four Loko is an alcoholic-energy drink marketed by Phusion Projects which contains alcohol, caffeine, taurine (which has no proven energetic affect), and guarana (a rich source of caffeine). In all, Four Loko has the equivalent of 80mg of caffeine (i.e., average cup of coffee). Depending on state law, Four Loko contains either 6%ABV (the equivalent of a Molson beer) or 12%ABV (equivalent to wine, 4). It comes in a 24.5 oz. can (the equivalent of a bottle of wine).

The Problem is Teenagers, Not Four Loko:
"The NIAAA states that approximately 599,000 college students in the United States get accidental alcohol-related injuries, such as alcohol poisoning. Half of them are under the legal drinking age of 21" (5).
"There are 1,742,887 drug-related ED visits nationwide and 7 percent involved alcohol only in individuals under the age of 21." (6).

"About four in five of all college students drink, including nearly 60 percent of students age 18 to 20." 
"Approximately two of every five college students of all ages—more than 40 percent—have reported engaging in binge drinking at least once during the past 2 weeks. However, colleges vary widely in their binge drinking rates—from 1 percent to more than 70 percent." 
"It is estimated that more than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking each year (430,000 of them by a college student under 21)." 
"About 11 percent of college student drinkers report that they have damaged property while under the influence of alcohol." 
"It is estimated that more than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape each year (about half among students under 21)." 
"It is estimated that more than 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex as a result of their drinking and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex each year" (7).
Fact of the Day: One's Belief that Alcohol Will Produce Relaxation, Sexual Desire, or Aggression Has More Effect on the Individual's Behavior than the Pharmacological  Effects of the Drug (8, 9, 10).


pj said...

Are people in the US aware of the drink 'vodka and Red Bull' which is a mixture of, usually, two shots of vodka and a can of the energy drink Red Bull (which contains 80mg of caffeine and also taurine).

It is very widely drunk in the UK, sickly sweet, and, as far as I can tell from observing young people, no worse than any other alcoholic beverage.

Anonymous said...

Another way to put it: alcohol and caffeine content of three Jack & Cokes, in a total liquid volume equal to.. 2.5 Jack & Cokes.

Heavy stuff.

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