By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just a year after the Food and Drug Administration ordered the maker of Four Loko to ditch the stimulants from its super strong brew, the Federal Trade Commission is now requiring Phusion Projects to more accurately label the alcohol content of its drinks and sell those with more than 1.5 ounces of ethanol only in re-sealable containers.
North Carolina’s Roy Cooper was among attorneys general in more than 30 states calling for the additional restrictions on the drink nicknamed “blackout-in-a-can.” The FTC announced its complaint against the Chicago-based company Oct. 3 and extended the comment period on a proposed settlement with the marketer until Dec. 2.
“Deception about alcohol content is dangerous to consumers, and it’s a serious concern for the FTC,” said David Vladeck, Director of the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a press release. “Four Loko contains as much alcohol as four or five beers, but it is marketed as a single-serving beverage.”
Four Loko is an 11 percent or 12 percent (depending on state regulations) alcohol by volume fruit-flavored, carbonated malt beverage sold in 23.5 ounce cans.
According to the FTC, some Phusion Project ads and promotional materials refer to the cans as “singles,” show people drinking directly from the can and make reference to one person consuming multiple cans. Also, in stocking instructions provided to stores, Phusion encouraged retailers to place the cans where other refrigerated, single-serve alcoholic beverages are displayed.
The company “represented, expressly or by implication, that a 23.5 ounce can of 11 percent or 12 percent ABV Four Loko contains alcohol equivalent to one or two regular, 12 ounce beers,” the complaint alleges. In truth, the cans contain the same amount of alcohol as 4.3 to 4.7 beers — more alcohol than an individual can safely consume on a single occasion.
“…Consuming a single can of Four Loko on a single occasion constitutes ‘binge drinking,’ which is defined by health officials as men drinking five (and women drinking four) or more standard drinks in about two hours,” wrote the FTC. “Such excessive drinking typically raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 percent or more. It also typically results in acute intoxication that can be harmful for a variety of reasons, including impaired brain function resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, and slurred speech.”
Although the company did not admit any wrongdoing, its owners signed a 10-page agreement with the FTC promising to print on its labels not only the alcohol by volume, which is already shown, but the equivalent number of regular beers. Also, within six months, they must begin using a re-sealable container for beverages that contain more than 1.5 ounces of ethanol. Further, the settlement bans ads depicting people drinking directly from the container of any product which contains more alcohol than that found in two and a half beers.
Once the order is finalized, violations could lead to penalties of up to $16,000 each.
“We’re glad to see the FTC taking action to rein in the purveyors of these dangerous alcopops, which truly shouldn’t even be sold outside ABC stores,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “North Carolina would not have to deal with this situation at all had lawmakers not decided to ‘pop the cap’ on the alcohol limits for malt beverages back in 2005, raising the limit to 15 percent.”
The Christian Action League has repeatedly sounded the alarm on alcopops, which are hugely popular among teens and college students, sending many to the hospital each year. In September the American Council on Alcohol Problems issued a resolution calling for the reversal of improper tax classifications and sales practices of the dangerous drinks.