Loko Motion

17 11 2010

College kids are known for doing crazy things. I remember it all too well. It must be in our DNA to do everything we can to self-destruct between the ages of 18 and 22. Or 24, if you’re like most students.

Staying awake all night. Road trips to Florida. Eating enough food for three people. And pouring dangerous concoctions down our wide-open throats.

Which is why the FDA is all ears about the reported dangers of consuming beverages like Four Loko, Joose and Tilt (among others), flavored malt beverages all with 10-12% alcohol. Oh, and they come in those handy 24-ounce cans at your local convenience store. The FDA is about ready to lower the boom on these beverages, making it illegal to add caffeine to an already potent potable. Yin, meet Yang…and you’re both in the same can.

Here’s the problem with these drinks: The brewers are packing the alcohol equivalent of 5 cans of regular beer AND a cup of coffee into one container. Drink only one of these, turn the ignition, and you have the same result in all 50 states: DUI. Consume a few, and you have the making of a hospital visit, if not the morgue. The caffeine, critics say, only gives you a heightened sense of confidence. But the alcohol is still circulating.

Flavored malt beverages are nothing new. As long ago as the 1960s, brewers marketed products like Champale and Hop’N Gator. But these were in 12-ounce cans, and had an alcohol content more like that of a standard beer.

I don’t care if these are priced to sell (often less than $2 a can). I don’t care that they are very buzz-worthy (if that indeed is a noble trait). And I don’t care that they happen to be so readily available on every urban street corner.

No, these things are just plain nasty. I’d rather chug Robitussin than swig one of these.

But there is a more serious issue afoot here, and that is the growing tendency of politicians and the government to want to effect social and personal change by outlawing things. The FDA can ban caffeine in these drinks all it wants, but it will never stop people from cannon-balling Jaeger Bombs (Jaegermeister + Red Bull) or any other homebrewed blend. In other words, you cannot outlaw stupidity. College students have been proving this for decades (not to mention an apparently growing number of supposedly adult peers).

While I can tolerate a little governmental regulation on this one (like governing the amount of alcohol that can be in one of these cocktails), I disagree with an outright ban. Prohibition did not work 80 years ago, and it won’t work now.

Still, the threat of FDA action has definitely caught the attention of these marketers. Already this morning, the makers of Four Loko have announced they will no longer add caffeine (note I did not say “remove,” because caffeine is an additive in products like these) to their drinks. You’ll have to drop your own NoDoz tablet through the opening.

Which shows to go ya just how futile it would be to ban it in the first place.

As for me, I’m happy with coffee before noon, and regular old beer later in the day. I need a pull to get me to lunch, but after my work I’m ready to be pushed back down. Never, I say never, do I want to be stretched like a rubberband inside, though.

I’ll leave that to the college kids. I’m getting a little too old for such shenanigans, and the FDA is getting a little too bold.

Dr “Do The Loko Motion With Me” Gerlich

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