The OLCC Gets One Right | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

The OLCC Gets One Right

The last wildly improbable event occurred last week, when the OLCC forbade the sale of the notorious Four Loko and six other alcohol-heavy, caffeine-spiked drinks.

The laws of probability say that, given enough time, if something is possible, no matter how improbable, it eventually will happen. A flipped coin someday will land on its edge. A million monkeys banging on a million computer keyboards someday will produce Shakespeare's King Lear. And the Oregon Liquor Control Commission someday will get something right.

The last wildly improbable event occurred last week, when the OLCC forbade the sale of the notorious Four Loko and six other alcohol-heavy, caffeine-spiked drinks.

Four Loko, variously nicknamed "liquid cocaine," "crack in a can" and "blackout in a can" and described (by The Source's own seasoned experts) as tasting "like cleaning chemicals," has been a runaway hit among college students and young hipsters since it came on the US market five years ago. The reasons for its appeal are simple: It's cheap ($2 to $4 a can in Oregon) and it makes you really, really drunk really, really fast.

Those factors also are what makes the drink unusually dangerous. Four Loko's alcohol content is a substantial 12% - about the same as a typical wine, or three to four times as much as a typical beer. Slamming three 23.5-ounce cans of the stuff gives you roughly the same alcohol hit as three bottles of wine or 12 to 15 beers.

What makes the Four Loko experience really loco, though, is the added caffeine - the equivalent of one or two cups of coffee in every can. The caffeine masks the symptoms of drunkenness, encouraging drinkers to stay awake and drink more - and sometimes to drive, because they don't realize how drunk they are. If you chug 15 beers or three bottles of wine you're probably going to fall asleep. If you chug three cans of Four Loko you're probably going to chug another can.

The results, predictably, can be ugly. In October, Ramapo College in New Jersey banned Four Loko from campus after 23 people had to be hospitalized after drinking it. A dozen other colleges followed suit after similar incidents. The FDA warned the manufacturer, Phusion Projects of Chicago, that it considers the caffeine in the drink an "unsafe food additive." At least five states besides Oregon, including Michigan, Massachusetts, Utah, Oklahoma and Washington, have banned it.

Predictably, the Four Loko bans have libertarian types whining about "the nanny state." The whining is unjustified. Those who overindulge in these drinks - and overindulging seems to be the whole point - are endangering not only themselves but other people. If banning Four Loko and other dangerous booze-and-caffeine combinations is an intolerable assault on freedom, then so is banning heroin and cocaine, or requiring people to wear seatbelts or not use their cell phones while they drive.

Of course people who are really determined to get wasted will always find a way; there's already a video on YouTube showing how to make your own version of Four Loko. But the OLCC's action will at least reduce the availability - and thus the risks - of these drinks, and for that it's earned The GLASS SLIPPER.

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