Editorial: Don't ban Four Loko in N.H.

Education is appropriate response

By TNH Editorial Staff
On November 12, 2010

On the front page of The New Hampshire today, you'll find an article on the caffeinated energy drink known as "Four Loko." It's likely not the first article you've read on the subject.

Media coverage converged on Four Loko and other alcoholic drinks in early October, when students at Ramapo College and Central Washington University were hospitalized following consumption of the beverages. In response, several colleges have banned the drinks outright from their campuses.

The ban hit the statehouses next. Utah, Michigan and Washington have already banned the sale of alcoholic energy drinks. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) got in on the action on Wednesday, urging his state to follow suit.

It's unfortunate that Mr. Schumer can't concentrate on more important topics; Four Loko should not be among a senator's top priorities. Schumer's involvement in the issue is similar to politicians bashing Facebook's privacy policy. It's good for some free PR. Try mounting a campaign against the Bush tax cuts, Mr. Schumer, or actually make progress against repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Banning Four Loko at any level,  whether across campus or across the state, is a gross overreaction. First of all, of the millions of students enrolled in institutions of higher education, an incredibly small percentage has been hospitalized after consuming the beverage. Yes, a few have died. Unfortunately, college students die from alcohol poisoning every year. That would be happening without Four Loko.

Let's be clear. You can consume Four Loko responsibly. Taking a sip of the beverage doesn't immediately turn you into an animal. Yes, the combination of caffeine and alcohol poses a situation somewhat different than just drinking a traditional alcoholic beverage. But it's not as if no one thought to combine alcohol and caffeine. Ever heard of a Red Bull and Vodka or Irish coffee? Caffeine is legal. Alcohol is legal. How does legal plus legal equal illegal?

Banning products as a PR move is a slippery slope. Smoking will destroy far more lives this year than Four Loko will do in dozens, and even that is not outright banned. Nor should it be.

Don't take away individual rights. If you want to discourage something, educate us on its risks. It makes more sense to convince us to follow a practice than to force it upon us (particularly in this case, when it's not that hard to get across the state's border). Education is the way to go. We gladly published a guest op-ed on Tuesday from UNH Health Services, and we believe the media's coverage has made the risks obvious.

That's enough.

We hope such hysterics don't spread north to New Hampshire, but there are signs that it could. While it is currently not possible to buy Four Loko in New Hampshire, that is due to the fact that the product has not been reviewed by members of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, not because of an outright ban. However, Liquor Commissioner Joseph W. Mollica told the New Hampshire Union Leader that he personally does not want to see Four Loko sold in New Hampshire.

So much for "Live Free or Die."

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