FTC Thinks Emphasizing That Four Loko Is 5 Drinks in One Can Will Encourage Moderation

d6a2Four Loko drinkers FTC Thinks Emphasizing That Four Loko Is 5 Drinks in One Can Will Encourage Moderation

This week the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) ;issued
a final order compelling Phusion Projects, the manufacturer of the
fruity malt beverage Four Loko, to change its packaging so that
consumers will finally know how totally messed up you can get by
polishing off an entire 23.5-ounce can. Was there ever any real
confusion on this score? Since volume and alcohol content were
clearly listed on every can, and since the FTC complained that
Phusion Projects blatantly promoted Four Loko as a fast and
economical way to get drunk, probably not.
Yet somehow the FTC became convinced
that Phusion Products “represented, expressly or by implication,
that a 23.5 oz can of 11% or12% ABV Four Loko contains alcohol
equivalent to one or two regular, 12 oz beers.” It must have been a
pretty subtle implication, because if you look through the FTC’s
original
complaint you will see that the company never said anything to
that effect. “We do not agree with the FTC’s allegations regarding
these issues,” Phusion co-founder Jaisen Freeman
said in a statement, but “we consider this agreement a
practical way to move forward.” The main allegation against
Freeman’s company boils down to this: By putting 23.5 ounces in one
“nonresealable” container, Phusion Projects implied that it was OK
for one person to consume it all in one sitting, when public health
experts tell us you really shouldn’t do that.
A can of Four Loko contains less alcohol
than a bottle of Champagne and less alcohol than some big bottles
of craft beer. In terms of intoxicating power, it is equivalent to
a few cocktails—or, as the FTC prefers to put it, “4.7 regular
beers,” by which it means beers with an alcohol content of 5
percent. That is an amount people have been known to consume over
the course of an evening without any deleterious effects. But let
us accept the FTC’s premise that no one should be drinking a whole
can of Four Loko by himself. How do the packaging
changes it has foisted upon Phusion Projects serve to
discourage that allegedly reckless practice? First, Four Loko
containers henceforth will be resealable, which should be quite
effective if the desire to avoid waste, as opposed to the desire to
get wasted, is the main reason people drink the entire can. Second,
Four Loko containers will carry an “alcohol facts” panel listing,
in addition to the volume and strength information that was on the
old cans, “servings per container” (4.7) and serving size (five
ounces), accompanied by this statement: “According to the U.S.
Dietary ;Guidelines, a serving contains ;0.6 ounces of pure
alcohol.”
Assuming that Four Loko consumers care how many
ounces of pure alcohol the federal government deems to be a
serving, and assuming they are prepared to do the math required to
convert pure alcohol ounces into beverage ounces based on alcoholic
strength, that last piece of information will be very useful to
them. Likewise “serving size,” assuming they are pouring their malt
beverage into a measuring cup. As for the declaration that one can
is 4.7 servings, one can imagine how it might backfire. As I
suggested
in Reason ;last year, advertising that a can of Four
Loko is five drinks in one calls further attention to the product’s
most controversial attraction.
Apparently I was not the only person to think of that. The FTC
originally proposed
a more prominent statement saying, “This can has as much alcohol as
4.5 regular (12 oz. 5% alc/vol) beers.” ;But Reuters
reports that the commission thought better of that idea:

The FTC said it had earlier considered requiring alcohol
information on the fronts of cans. But it said some commentators
feared this could encourage binge drinking, by promoting Four Loko
as “an efficient, inexpensive way to become inebriated.”

Solution: Put the same information on the can, but make it so
inconspicuous that no one will notice it. This is the FTC’s idea of
a balanced approach to consumer protection.
The FTC’s order is the second federal crackdown on Four Loko.
The first, by the Food and Drug Administration, resulted in its
decaffeination, through a completely rational, science-based
process that I chronicled
in Reason ;two years ago.

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FTC Thinks Emphasizing That Four Loko Is 5 Drinks in One Can Will Encourage Moderation


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