Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is Four Loko To Blame For Wide Awake Drunks?

Alcohol consumption in moderation is legal. Caffeine consumption in moderation is generally assumed as a norm. (Note: one person has apparently contended that it may be an excuse for murder: LINK) So are energy drinks premixed with alcohol dangerous? And assuming it is dangerous, can a plaintiff sue the manufacturer for compensation when a consumer gets involved in a car accident?

Decent questions that Janice Rivera, a Daytona Beach woman, apparently wants answered in the affirmative. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning to Phusion Projects Inc. and three similar manufacturers of energy drinks. The FDA has warned against the high content of caffeine in the drink as well. Consequently, the growing trend is to answer the first question in the affirmative, but is there research to back up the alleged danger?

Four Loko ("blackout in a can") is a caffeinated malt beverage consisting of 12 percent alcohol. (One 23.5 ounce can is the equivalent of drinking five or six beers.) It also contains caffeine which allegedly leads to wide awake drunks. (A similar drink pronounced juice, spelled J-o-o-s-e, also combines alcohol with caffeine.) But are wide awake drunks a recent phenomena?

An October 2007 study by the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at East Carolina University reported that mixing alcohol and energy drinks was fairly popular among college students. In other words, mixing alcohol and caffeine has been around longer than the manufacturing of Four Loko. Furthermore, no study has been presented that finds a cause-effect relationship between alcoholic energy drinks and health maladies. "There are no studies that address physiological changes when someone drinks an alcoholic energy drink," Bruce Goldberger, professor of toxicology at the University of Florida, told the Los Angeles Times.

The FDA and state regulators have cited studies which suggest some potential concerns.
A study published Nov. 12 in "Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research" suggested an association between alcohol abuse and the consumption of energy drinks. However, the study did not find a cause-effect relationship nor did it involve premixed drinks like Four Loko. The Department of Emergency Medicine at Wake Forest University in N.C. found that students who consume alcoholic energy drinks were more likely to take part in alcohol-related incidents according to a 2008 study. However, the chance of such incidents still remained at a low 5 percent.
But even if the scientists are not in complete agreement, what is the response of our legal system?

Four Loco has been a target of recent laws designed to ban energy alcohol drinks. Janice Rivera, age 20, blames the manufacturer of Four Loco for her injuries arising from a serious car accident. She has filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for her injuries sustained when she was ejected from a car on State Road 417 on August 13, 2010 in Seminole County. The driver of the car, Danielle C. Joseph, 20, is also a named a defendant. Danielle apparently drank the energy drink Four Loco prior to the accident. (Danielle's car apparently collided with another vehicle while Danielle was driving at a high rate of speed.) Sammy's, a convenience store in Deltona, has also been named in the suit. The theory against the retailer is not completely clear at this time.

Rivera's attorney, William McBride of Orlando, thinks that these alcohol energy drinks are "dangerous." The opinion is not unprecedented. The family of a young man has sued Phusion because he drank Four Loco drinks before committing suicide. But what is it that makes the combination of alcohol and caffeine so dangerous?

Some experts pontificate that caffeine masks sensory cues that people rely on to determine how drunk they are becoming. The FDA claims consumption of caffeine and alcohol could lead to risky behavior. But how are the ready mixed drinks different then Irish Coffee or Red Bull and Vodka? Does the premixing of alcohol and caffeine make it possible to consume more alcohol then if one mixes the ingredients themselves?

The difference in treatment of premixed drinks from traditional drinks may lie in the legislature. Five states have banned he sale of alcohol mixed energy drinks. Proponents of the law claim that these premixed beverages encourage binge-drinking. Drinks containing the stimulants taurine, guarine and caffeine are perceived to appeal to younger drinkers because it tastes like a soft drink. It is argued that younger consumers will not realize that they are intoxicated when they get behind the wheel.

So will a ban solve the problem of alcoholism in our youth? Brian Dvoret who works in the liquor industry sums up the issue, "The problem is that abuse doesn't happen because it's available. Abuse happens because it's cool to have something that you're not supposed to have. At that point it comes back to parental concern." All of the publicity of the ban has probably promoted great interest in the combination of alcohol and stimulants. As bans become more popular, the result may be the opposite of what was desired. If the ban does become nationwide, do Irish Pubs across the continental United States suddenly have long waiting lines to get in the door?
Note: November 17: The corporation announces it will voluntarily remove caffeine from Four Loko. Further action from the FDA seems unlikely.


Anonymous said...

Wow, two hard core articles in a row. Thanks for covering a difficult topic.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to write a school paper on this topic. You did a lot of my research for me. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Happy Thanksgiving to all you legal pubbers. Now get back to work!

Anonymous said...

As predicted, the bans have increased it’s popularity with Huge Spikes in Four Loko Sales all across the nation. The bad press is helping it’s current sales. The notoriety and safety issues of it cloud the potential of future profits.

Anonymous said...

Caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant. The two have opposite effects.How can this not lead to trouble?

Alcohol slows down bodily functions like heart rate and breathing. Caffeine increases heart rate and alertness.

The combination could potentially be hard on the heart.

Anonymous said...

It makes me alert, horny and without any inhibitions!

Anonymous said...

Hey, does it do wonders for impotency too?

Ginger said...

Can't say about impotency, but I can tell you it gets me hot and keeps me up all night long.


Anonymous said...

Wish I could buy some for my wife. Unfortunately, it was pulled off all the shelves on the day before Thanksgiving

Anonymous said...

Are you folks all loco? This stuff just makes your heart race!

Video Guy said...

Alcohol in itself is an unpredictable drug, one can have 4-5 beers one day and feel just fine and another day drink the same and be hammered.

These new drinks remind me of the spiked punch made at a college party, the taste is deceiving to the extra kick hidden in its contents and unlike a shot of whisky that one knows what they are consuming, a few cups of the sweetened flavored punch can wipe someone out before they realize what they are drinking.

I remember being at my friends party and having two glasses of the punch they made, and before I realized what was happening I was passed-out on the couch along with 3-4 of the girls who attended and drank the punch. The next morning when I awoke with a pounding headache my friends were laughing and telling me I was not suppose to drink the punch and that it was the girls that attended. Being raised with four sisters this really pissed me off as I hate such tactics used to take advantaged that way.

Of course later in life I had females do similar acts to me…I guess they learned this strategy at College!

In relation to the post, they now hold bartenders responsible for over serving, should this same type of responsibility apply to a manufacturer of such drinks?
I do think the Alcohol server law is a good law as before many barkeeps and owners would continue to serve knowing that a patron was way past their limits and not caring what happened once they walked out the door…and all for profit.
I myself fell victim to this in my younger days and crashed my car after I left the bar, I did not try to sue anyone as I felt it was my responsibility to stop drinking, as no one twisted my arm to over consume.

I do feel that one is responsible for what they intake into their system but there should be a warning from the manufactures of such drinks, like my friends should have warned everyone about their spiked punch.

Legal Pub said...

Dram shop laws like those in Indiana permit innocent third parties to recover from bar tenders who overserve patrons who subsequently crash their cars and injure others.

In the absence of intent or fraud, a patron usually can't recover against the bartender for his own drunkeness.

DWI plagues this country and causes many innocent people to be injured or die. Responsibility is a theme I advocate. In other words, don't drink and drive!

Viper said...

Heres to no drinking and driving in any state!

Alcohol Server Certification said...

They shouldn't blame the product itself for being so tempting to consume. Consumers themselves don't have self-control and discipline which causes this issue.

Anonymous said...

Alcohol Server: I agree! Such paternalistic laws assume adults can't make decisions to be responsible consumers.