The makers of “energy drink” Four Loko – aka “blackout in a can” – are under scrutiny again by federal regulators, who announced this week that Four Loko cans will now disclose that they contain as much alcohol as four to five cans of beer.
The Washington Post reports, “Phusion Projects agreed to relabel its Four Loko beverages under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, which has confronted the company more than once about its advertising practices. The Chicago-based company did not admit any wrongdoing, but in a statement it said it will relabel its malt drinks to better inform consumers.”
The drink has been “linked to the deaths of teenagers in several states in recent years,” including two boys in California who died at the beginning of the year. Phusion announced last November that they would remove caffeine from the drink after several states banned the sale of the beverage.
In the Washington Post’s coverage of the re-labeling of Four Loko, they detail the death of local teen Johnny “Bo” Rupp of Centreville, who “drank the caffeinated Four Loko before attending a concert with friends at Jiffy Lube Live,” according to a lawsuit filed by the family against Phusion. The article continues:
At the concert, the event staff noticed that Rupp was behaving strangely and called his parents to retrieve him. Rupp became ‘increasingly paranoid and disoriented’ during the drive home with his mother, the lawsuit said. The teenager jumped out of the car when his mother pulled onto the driveway and fled into the darkness. He wandered onto a busy street, where he was struck by a car. Rupp died a day later.
The caffeine-infused alcoholic confection Rupp drank made it difficult for him to pass out even though he was extremely drunk, said Jeffrey Simon, the family’s lawyer. “You’re supposed to pass out. That’s the body’s way of staying: Stop,’ ” he said.
The company said it is vigorously defending itself in the Rupp case.
It sounds to me as if drugs may have also been at play in Rupp’s demise, as they were in the case of the two California teens mentioned earlier. Perhaps the caffeine interacting with other illicit substances exacerbated the chance of a fatality. It’s a good thing the caffeine has since been removed from the concoction.
The Federal Trade Commission “alleges that Phusion misrepresented the amount of alcohol in those cans as being the equivalent of one to two regular cans of 12-ounce beers instead of four to five cans” and that the company “misled consumers by urging merchants to stock the supersize cans with other refrigerated single-serve alcoholic beverages,” FTC officials said. The Washington Post reports, “The FTC considers consuming an entire can on a single occasion equivalent to ‘binge drinking.’ Cans of these carbonated beverages are not resealable, which encourages immediate consumption.”
Phusion denies that it engaged in deceptive marketing practices (hey – they had the decency to call it FOUR LOKO – if you don’t get that that means THIS CONTAINS FOUR BEERS AND WILL EFF YOU UP, too bad for you!), saying, “We don’t share the FTC’s perspective and we disagree with their allegations. However, we take legal compliance very seriously and we share the FTC’s interest in making sure consumers get all the information and tools they need to make smart, informed decisions.”
The agreement between Phusion and the FTC is currently in the midst of a 30-day period wherein the public may comment on its content. Six months after the settlement is approved, Phusion is to “start selling its supersize drinks in resealable containers, to give consumers ‘more flexibility in the way they choose to enjoy our Four Loko products.’”
Michael Scippa, a spokesman for an alcohol industry watchdog group called Alcohol Justice, noted that drinks like Four Loko attract young consumers. “These are not products that most adults are attracted to,” Scippa said. “They are a gateway product to move young people from juice and soda pop to alcohol.”