Banning Four Loko: First Utah, then ...
Published: November 17, 2010 09:50AM
Updated: November 16, 2010 10:14AM
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Four Loko alcoholic energy drinks are seen in the cooler of a convenience store Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, in Seattle. Following a vote by the state Liquor Control Board Wednesday morning, Washington state is banning the drinks effective Nov. 18. The ban comes after nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after a party last month, where authorities say they drank the caffeinated malt liquor beverage Four Loko. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

It's the rare instance where Utah is leading a fashion trend, not following one.

This trend: Banning the caffeinated alcoholic beverage Four Loko, which packs in its 12 percent alcohol the strength of four beers -- but with enough caffeine to keep you awake through any drunken bender.

Utah was the first to ban the sale of Four Loko (an easy thing for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to do, since the state buys alcohol from distributors, and then sells the products to consumers).

Since then, Michigan, Oklahoma and Montana have banned sales of the product, and Washington state will ban them starting Thursday. Meanwhile, the state of New York has reached a deal with Four Loko's manufacturer to stop selling the stuff there.

Not that there's anything new about mixing alcohol and caffeine, as Salon.com's Schulyer Velasco pointed out in an interview with historian Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. There have been Irish coffee, rum-and-Coke, and vodka-and-Red Bull.

So why ban Four Loko?

"The logic of that would seem to be that you can't stop people from mixing the two on their own, taking a coffee and pouring some Bailey's or Kaluha into it," Okrent said. "You can't stop people from making explosives out of nitrogen fertilizer either. But you can outlaw the sale of explosives."

Okrent suggested that drinkers would find easy alternatives to Four Loko where it has been banned, but that the controversy could boost sales in states where it's still sold. "I could see how you could begin a marketing push: 'Banned in New York! You can only get it here!'," he said.