The Return of Four Loko – Even Without Caffeine, Still Popular with Teens

The ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages, also called alcopop, was one of the biggest stories in the beverage service and sales industry in 2010. Popular beverages such as Four Loko were called dangerous, a binge in a can, and worse. Last November the Food and Drug Administration declared alcoholic energy drinks to be a public health concern. The FDA concluded that caffeine added to malt alcoholic beverages was an unsafe food additive (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

What made the combination so dangerous? The FDA raised concerns that caffeine additives may have masked some of the effects consumers typically rely on to determine their level of intoxication. In fact, drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks are 3 times more likely to binge drink than drinkers who do not report mixing alcohol with energy drinks (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). All of this was alarming enough to get these drinks pulled off of shelves, but also concerning was their popularity with teens and young adults.

Four Loko was, and continues to be, extremely popular with teens. A single can of Four Loko came in at 23.5 ounces, contained 12% alcohol, and also contained unsafe additives caffeine, taurine, and guarana. Four Loko came in much larger, and more potent, than a can of beer. In fact, concerns were raised that these drinks were marketed to appeal directly to teens (Marin Institute).

Several months later, Four Loko is back on shelves, without the caffeinated punch. The drinks have been reformulated and no longer contain additives like caffeine, but they still come in 23.5 ounce containers with 12% alcohol by volume (Omaha World-Herald). Teens may not realize they are consuming as much alcohol as they are until they are well on their way to unsafe intoxication. Four Loko still comes in fruity, teen-friendly flavors like fruit punch and watermelon. It also continues to be the drink of choice for many young people around the country (Bar Business Magazine).

What can you do as a beverage service professional to keep teens safe?

  1. Make sure that ‘alcopops’ such as Four Loko sold off-premises are displayed in areas dedicated to alcoholic beverages, not in the soft drink section. Many of these drinks can be easily confused for non-alcoholic energy drinks, and it just makes it easier on everyone involved to keep them separate.
  2. Always card anyone who appears to be under the age of 30. Retailers and off-site sales professionals should be diligent about checking IDs to make sure teenagers are not trying to purchase liquor with fake or borrowed identification.
  3. For more ways to help curb teens’ access to alcohol, read our blog post, “Teen Drinking is a Dangerous Business,” and refer to We Don’t Serve Teens’ suggestions.

What policies have you instituted at your organization to deter teen drinking?

Resources

© 2011 National Hospitality Institute®, TAM® of Nevada

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Teen Drinking is a Dangerous Business

Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking; this includes about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drowning (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). These numbers are alarming, and service professionals should be diligent about ensuring that they are checking IDs and using their alcohol awareness training to avoid contributing to the problem.

Some adults are comfortable allowing their teenagers to drink at home, the thought process often being, “if my teenager is going to imbibe, I’d rather they do it at home under my supervision, and I don’t have to worry about them getting behind the wheel of a car or harming themselves”. Teenage drinking is dangerous, regardless of where it occurs, or who is supervising. Teens can develop dangerous drinking habits, and supervising adults should be diligent about promoting alcohol awareness and age appropriate life choices. Additionally, teens are more likely to binge drink than their adult counterparts. According to the National Society on Drug Use and Health, 72% of 18- to 20-year-old drinkers reported heavy drinking in the past month. (NSDUH).

Also alarming, a new study led by researchers at Indiana University, and summarized by CNN, shows teen problem drinking is not a phase, and could be a predictor of alcohol dependence in adulthood.

It only takes a minute to check an ID and prevent a minor from entering a bar and buying a drink, but what about off-site sales and service? Gas stations, grocery stores and liquor stores are all places that teens turn to in order to purchase liquor, and staffers at those establishments should take steps to ensure they are doing all they can to prevent illegal sales.

Service professionals must be aware of the facts and dangers of teenage drinking. These service professionals are required to obtain alcohol awareness training, and will learn valuable real-world information for dealing with these types of situations in their TAM® training. Off-site premises workers don’t necessarily know that if they sell beer and liquor to a legal adult, the adult won’t provide that liquor to teenagers, but using your best judgment and following store procedures will help to keep things safe and legal.

The national campaign We Don’t Serve Teens makes excellent and common-sense suggestions for helping to curb teenage drinking from off-site sales, “Create and maintain sales and service policies that every staffer should follow.” (We Don’t Serve Teens). Everyone involved in sales should be aware of store policies regarding acceptable forms of ID, when and how to refuse a sale, etc.

Retailers and off-site sales professionals should be diligent about checking IDs as well to make sure teenagers are not trying to purchase liquor with fake or borrowed identification. To learn more about recognizing a fake or borrowed ID, refer to our blog post, “Are Minors Using Fake IDs and Sneaking Past You?” Most establishments also have a guidebook, like the I.D. Checking Guide, for validating various forms of identification. Ask your manager if you have a guide like this in your establishment and refer to it if needed. The I.D. Checking Guide can be purchased from TAM® here.

Taking steps to stop teen drinking is everyone’s job. Parents, teens, workers, communities and others all have to work to make a difference. For more ways to help curb teens’ access to alcohol, refer to We Don’t Serve Teens’ suggestions.

What are some tricks that you’ve seen used by fake ID holders? How else do you think service workers can help curb teen drinking?

Resources

© 2011 National Hospitality Institute®, TAM® of Nevada