Alcoholic energy beverage Four Loko was removed from shelves after the FDA announced that the drinks were an unsafe mix of alcohol and caffeine. John McCullough – Mustang Daily

It was in 1933 that prohibition, which caused gangsters and moonshiners to profit from the illegal production and sales of liquor, was lifted.

Now, nearly 80 years later, certain areas of the United States are facing a more narrowly targeted prohibition. It is one which may cause many Cal Poly students to change their weekend routines.

Now, due to pressures by activists around the country, the sale of the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko has been banned in several locations. Following a press release by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Four Loko’s parent company, Phusion Projects, released a statement announcing that the company has stopped production and shipment of its products that include caffeine.

On Nov. 17, the FDA sent a letter to four companies that produce and sell caffeinated alcoholic drinks. The letter said the drinks were unsafe and the FDA could ban the drinks under Federal Law. Phusion Projects was a recipient of the letter.

But is it dangerous?

There have been several reports in the media of Loko-related incidents. However, there have also been reports which label Four Loko as perfectly safe to consume.

Phusion Projects said its product has “roughly the same alcohol content as wine and some craft beers, and far less alcohol by volume than hard liquor.”

What the company did not mention is the fact that most students who consume Four Loko don’t drink it in the same way they drink the other types of alcoholic beverages mentioned in Phusion Projects’ statement.

Eddie Barakut, manager of Cork N’ Bottle in San Luis Obispo, said he watched the drink’s representatives come into his shop and pull the product off the shelves. Barakut said that if the FDA thinks Four Loko is dangerous, they must have legitimate reasons.

“It was a very popular drink here,” Barakut said.

Now the shelves where Four Loko sat, along with other caffeinated alcoholic drinks, are empty.

“I don’t know when we’re going to get the new version without the caffeine or even if we’re going to carry it,” Barakut said.

Most of Barakut’s customers are college students, regardless of what they’re buying. This makes it hard for him to determine exactly who was purchasing Four Lokos, he said.

Travis Schecter was one of those customers until he graduated last spring.

Schecter estimated he drank an average of two to three Four Lokos per week before graduating from Cal Poly. That estimate does not include the other alcohol Schecter consumed alongside the Four Lokos, he said.

“I think it’s a good idea they’re getting rid of the caffeine,” Schecter said. “In the most amazing way possible, there were times where I drank a couple in a night and I felt my heart hurting after. I’m probably still going to drink coffee or energy drinks before I go out. It’s not going to change anything. If people want that rush and they’ve experienced that rush they’re going to find a way to imitate and emulate that feeling. If they didn’t take the caffeine out, I would definitely still be drinking them.”

In college campuses across the country, the abuse of alcohol is a constant topic of discussion and controversy. Cal Poly head of counseling Elie Axelroth said a vast majority of instances where students are kicked off campus are alcohol related.

Axelroth couldn’t comment professionally on whether or not caffeine induced drinks like Four Loko are more dangerous than other alcoholic beverages, but she did share advice she said she often gives students who struggle with substance abuse.

If a student is worried about the use of a substance there are a few things the student can do, Axelroth said.

“One thing they can do is look at their sleep,” Axelroth said. “Are they getting enough? Another is if they are getting exercise and eating right. Are they experiencing more anxiety? And then they should ask themselves if the drinks are the cause. It makes sense for the students to ask themselves, how it is affecting them.”

Whether or not the drink is officially declared as dangerous is up to the FDA.

The key issue the FDA focused on in its letter to the four beverage companies was stimulants coupled with alcohol.

These stimulants include three of the drink’s active ingredients — caffeine, taurine and guarana — all of which are found in non-alcoholic energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar. The addition of the fourth ingredient, alcohol, is what makes Four Loko unique from its competitor energy beverages.

In California, Four Loko contains roughly 24 ounces of flavored malt-liquor at 12 percent alcohol content. One tall can is equivalent to almost six Natural Light beers, to put it in perspective.

In an official statement released by the company’s three co-founders — Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright and Jaisen Freeman — Phusion disregarded any claims that its product is unsafe or marketed in any sort of deceiving fashion.

“We’re pleased that the FDA commended us for our decision to reformulate our products nationwide to remove caffeine, guarana and taurine,” the statement said. “As we stated on Nov. 16, we have stopped the production and shipment of all our products containing these ingredients. We will continue to work closely and cooperatively with national and state regulators.”

Currently, Phusion is not taking any requests for interviews, a spokesperson for the company said.

The FDA gave the four recipients of its letter 15 days to respond with a written explanation of how they plan to change the product. It was Phusion’s decision to pull its product off the shelves and to stop making the caffeinated beverage.

Consumers like Schecter may not be able to get their caffeine-alcohol combo from one drink, but he said there still are other options.

“When I say it’s going to be a Four Loko night my friends know exactly what that means,” Schecter said. “It means you’re going to party as hard as you can possibly party, and there’s at least a 50 percent chance of blacking out. After hearing myself talk about it, I realize that this is exactly why they’re taking the caffeine out.”

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