By Jacob Sullum
First the Food and Drug Administration forced Phusion Projects, the Chicago-based manufacturer of Four Loko, to decaffeinate its fruity, bubbly malt beverage. Then the Federal Trade Commission pressured the company into selling Four Loko in resealable containers carrying a conspicuous warning that "this can has as much alcohol as 4.5 regular (12 oz. 5% alc/vol) beers"—a puzzling requirement, since the federal government's main rap against Four Loko is that it's aimed at irresponsible "young adults" looking for a fast and cheap way to get drunk.
Now 35 state attorneys general are demanding that the FTC go further, limiting Four Loko cans to the equivalent of no more than two 5 percent beers. For the 12 percent version of Four Loko, that would mean reducing the size of the container by 57 percent, from the current 23.5 ounces to about 10 ounces. "The company claims that that you can safely drink one can of Four Loko in a single occasion," says Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, "which is absurd."
Which is more absurd: the verifiably true fact that someone can consume four or five drinks over the course of an evening without dying of alcohol poisoning, or the notion that the necessity of opening a second container will stop him from doing so? And if even resealable containers of Four Loko are still objectionable because drinking the entire contents would be overdoing it, doesn't the FTC need to ban 750-milliliter wine bottles, which contain more alcohol than a can of Four Loko? Do Tom Miller and his busybody buddies know that vodka, whiskey, and tequila are also sold in such bottles, each of which contains the equivalent of about 17 FTC beers?
I chronicled the original, caffeinated Four Loko's journey from new product to contraband—a moral panic in which Miller and other attorneys general figured prominently—in the February issue of Reason.