Last month, I wrote about the moral panic over Four Loko and other products whose manufacturers had the audacity to combine two perfectly legal substances — alcohol and caffeine — without first seeking permission from our federal overlords at the FDA. The Obama administration forced Four Loko to pull its product off the shelves and change its formulation, helped in no small part by grandstanding politicians attempting to look busy. That fostered a media frenzy that saw reporters discussing Four Loko in such measured tones as “Blackout Drink” and “Wide-Awake Drunks” — usually with a CYA question mark attached.
Reason TV takes a look at the gestation of a moral panic over a blend of two legal substances that have been blended for decades, if not longer, and the threat to the right to choose it represents:
On December 21, Ramiro Diaz was arrested for selling eight cans of Four Loko to an undercover agent from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Diaz faces up to a year in jail for the offense, but just a few months ago Four Loko was perfectly legal. What happened?
The drink had been the subject of many media reports which suggested that Four Loko’s mixture of alcohol and caffeine causes young people to engage in risky behavior. The drink was even dubbed “Blackout in a Can,” and the story soon moved from newsrooms to Congress, where officials like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) demanded that it be pulled from shelves.
“We must protect children from the severe and deadly consequences of drinks like Four Loko,” declared Schumer. The Food and Drug Administration agreed, and in November federal regulators banned Four Loko. The company promised to yank it from shelves by December and replace it with a decaffeinated version.
The entire exercise is absurd. As I wrote before, neither alcohol nor caffeine are dangerous to people when consumed in moderation. Both are potentially dangerous when consumed excessively, especially alcohol, which can kill people through acute overdosing. The combination of the two do not produce any dangerous byproducts. Yet the FDA has banned the combination as a manufactured beverage, even though people mix the two on their own without incident in many other ways, while “allowing” manufacture and consumption of both separately.
This isn’t about keeping harmful products out the marketplace. It’s about substituting government mandates for individual choice, and having Chuck Schumer and his merry band of elites in Washington act as den mothers for adults. Speaking of Schumer, I’m going to award him the first William J. LePetomane Award for bravely stirring up a media panic in order to save his own phony-baloney job:
You can give the Senator a harrumph by calling 202-224-6542.
Update: Fixed the second video, sorry!