Having weathered a media frenzy spanning several months, a national inquiry into the safety of its content and general outcry from the public at large, Four Loko is taking an extended vacation until its restoration to the shelf – sans caffeine, that is.
On Nov. 16, the Chicago-based manufacturer of the drink, Phusion Projects, released a statement declaring that it would remove caffeine, guarana and taurine – three of the four principle ingredients that gave the name “Four Loko” – from the beverage.
“Going forward, Phusion will produce only non-caffeinated versions of Four Loko,” the statement reads.
But that hasn’t stopped other extreme alcoholic products from taking up the controversial beverage’s mantel.
More recently, safety inquiries have been turned to another alcoholic product, manufactured by Maple Grove Products. Whipped Lightning, popularly called “whipahol,” is an alcohol-infused whipped cream distributed in aerosol cans.
“While it won’t be knocking any socks off with its 36.5 proof alcohol content, it should be enough to kick up your Irish Coffees, Mudslides, and especially kinky trips to the bedroom,” a description of the product states on the manufacturer’s website.
Boston University School of Public Health professor Michael Siegel said that although it’s unclear whether “whipahol” will become the new Four Loko, “there’s definitely a reason for concern.”
“First, because it’s in a form that’s easily consumable and because the alcohol content is very high, it would be easy for youths to abuse,” he said.
“Second, because the product is so sweet, it’s not like drinking hard alcohol which is bitter, that’s not the case. It’s really possible you could reach a high level of intoxication.”
Whipped Lightening is not subject to FDA labeling requirements and thus has not met opposition from the administration, according to The New York Examiner.
Four Loko’s high alcohol content – 12 percent in 23.5-ounce can, or the equivalent of four beers, according to the company’s website – and its cheap price had been charged as a way for the company to exploit its product on college and university campuses.
Siegel contended that it was impossible to determine whether companies such as Phusion Projects specifically target college students to make a profit.
“The speculation is that college students are more likely [to drink Four Loko] because for the price of one drink you can have five and you can reach intoxication much more quickly. But the real answer is we don’t know because we don’t have any surveillance system,” he said.
Siegel said he’s compiling a grant request to study what kinds and brands of alcohol are being sold to whom.
“We don’t know what specific types of alcohol, in particular, what kinds of brands, youths are consuming… Despite the fact that we have a good idea of what amount youths drink, we have no idea what they drink,” he said. “Four Loko got a lot of attention but we don’t have a sense of how many kids are actually drinking it.”
Regardless of the number of consumers, some Four Loko enthusiasts did not let the ban stop them from seeking out the prized drink through other means: namely, through Craiglist.
“I have every single flavor all 7 of them,” a Dec. 2 post on the website from a user in Rhode Island states, offering a single can of Four Loko for $7.00 and a case for $75.00.
The beverage was banned following a United States Food and Drug Administration investigation which concluded that it was unsafe.
On Nov. 17, the FDA issued letters to four beverage manufacturers, including Phusion Projects, warning them that their caffeinated alcoholic drinks were being “marketed in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act” and could be seized under federal law, according to an FDA press release.
In the statement, Principal Deputy Commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein said the FDA did not find the addition of caffeine to alcohol to be safe.
“To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern,” Sharfstein said.
While Phusion Projects has voluntarily agreed to comply with the new FDA standards, its three co-founders have nevertheless insisted throughout the whole debacle that their product was safe.
“We have repeatedly contended – and still believe, as do many people throughout the country – that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced,” they said in a statement.Boston University Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore said the Four Loko episode allowed students to consider their safety.
“Four Loko gave us the opportunity to raise questions about alcohol in our culture. . . we have a culture that encourages clandestine drinking, that encourages people to drink large amounts of alcohol without being educated on its effects,” he said.