Four Loko: Cheap drink’s ups and downs

Nov. 17, 2010, 1:01 a.m.

It’s been dubbed “blackout in a can” and “liquid cocaine.” It looks just like an energy drink in a red and grey camouflage-designed aluminum can, except for an “alcoholic beverage” label encircling the top.

The drink is fruit punch-flavored Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic drink newly popular at colleges across the United States. Stanford is no exception to the Four Loko craze. Kathy Vu ’13 said she first heard about the drink from a friend, though she has yet to try it.

“My friend told me about a new energy drink with alcohol that she wanted to try,” Vu said.

A combination of alcohol and carbonated, fruit-flavored soda, the drink’s flavor is a mixture of juice and cheap beer.

“It reminds [students] of an energy drink, and it’s really cheap, and it has a lot of alcohol,” she said.

Four Loko’s hype has grown from word-of-mouth marketing. But on Monday, the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission filed an emergency regulation to restrict the sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages such as Four Loko, starting Nov. 22. Four states — Washington, Michigan, Oklahoma and Utah — have already banned the drinks, and their distributors have agreed to halt shipments to Connecticut.

In response to threats from regulators, Four Loko maker Phusion Projects announced yesterday it would no longer add caffeine to its alcoholic drinks. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to take action on caffeinated alcoholic drinks as soon as today.

But regardless of the drink’s potential dangers, its popularity is apparently high — Four Loko has more than 100,000 fans on Facebook.

Students said that Four Loko’s risk adds to the students’ fascination with the drink.

“I think it’s also a matter of pride and bragging rights,” said Maren Botz-Zapp ’13.

Paul Brownlee ’12, who has tried Four Loko, agrees.

“It’s unpredictable,” he added. “And it’s all in one can.”

At $3 a can, its low cost relative to its alcohol content is an added plus for the college crowd.

“We’re college students and we don’t want to spend that much money,” Botz-Zapp said. “You’ll be set for a weekend…honestly, it’s a quick and easy way to get really, really drunk.”

The recent news about the product’s dangers and hospitalizations has spurred some schools to ban the drink. Ralph Castro, alcohol and drug educator at Vaden Health Center, told The Daily that Stanford would “look into” the drink if it became a “problem” on campus, which he said it hasn’t so far.

Stanford students have said they are well aware of the dangers, even before the drink was banned at Ramapo College in October. Botz-Zapp said she first saw one of the brightly colored cans lying around in her freshman dorm last year.

“I had heard about them and heard rumors about how horrible they were for you,” she said. “I think students are aware of the dangers of drinking that kind of stuff, but they also choose to ignore it for their own reasons.”

Brownlee thinks students at Stanford are smart about consuming it.

“At least at Stanford, people know it has more caffeine than you’re probably willing to drink at once,” he said.

Chelsea Ma contributed to this report.

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