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Massachusetts Four Loko Ban Raises Questions

Effects of ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages remain unclear

By Evan Ribot, Contributing Writer

In the wake of growing controversy and public health concerns, Massachusetts last week became the fifth state in the U.S. to ban the sale of the much-publicized drink Four Loko.

Yet the Massachusetts ban has prompted criticism for targeting all caffeinated alcoholic beverages—not just Four Loko.

New Century Brewing Company founder Rhonda Kallman said her company produces a caffeinated alcoholic beverage called Moonshot, which falls under the new state ban despite having a “different consumer base” than Four Loko.

“I make a 5 percent alcohol, all malt, craft-brewed pilsner beer,” Kallman said. “It’s a beer for beer lovers that want a caffeinated choice.”

Kallman said caffeinated alcoholic beverages are not uncommon, adding the FDA and individual states should reconsider the scope of the ban.

“What the FDA should do is regulate, not outright ban things,” Kallman said. “It can’t just be that four companies get singled out [in the Massachusetts ban].”

Harvard Square liquor store employees are also unsure of the effect of the ban on sales and whether it will curb binge drinking. An employee at a Harvard Square liquor store who requested to remain anonymous said the popularity of Four Loko and the persistent consumer demand might pose obstacles to an effective ban.

“Four Loko was huge. It was quite a hit,” the employee said. “But hey, safety first. Of course, [the companies] are just going to come up with something legal now.”

Additionally, the employee said he noticed a spike in Four Loko sales within the past few weeks as customers “stocked up” in anticipation of the impending ban from store shelves. The hype surrounding Four Loko—especially on college campuses—will likely encourage beverage manufacturers to find new formulas within the new FDA guidelines, the employee said.

One such manufacturer is United Brands, a San Diego-based company that produces the alcoholic energy drink Joose. In a statement issued Monday, United Brands CEO Michael Michail said that his company will respond to the public controversy which prompted the ban by “innovating” to adhere to new legal standards.

“Unlike other manufacturers, United Brands does not engage in illegal marketing such as giving away free product and maintains a Responsible Drinking Policy on its website,” the statement reads.

In the end, Kallman said she fears the ban is “reactionary” and fails to effectively target the dangers it seeks to eliminate.

“Let’s face it, college kids have been drinking illegally for decades,” she said. “If it’s not Joose or Four Loko that they’re buying, it will be something else.”

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