Nanny State is Alive and Well in Four Loko Ban

Not since the fictional days of “Animal House” has a group of nine drunk college students accomplished so much, in so little time, with so little effort.

Less than six weeks after nine college students from Central Washington University were found passed-out drunk at a house party, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has joined a growing number of states in banning “alcoholic energy drinks.” The media hysteria surrounding this “epidemic” has been as misguided as it has been pointless. Simply put, the overreaction to alcoholic-energy drinks exemplifies government paternalism at its worst.

In the five and a half weeks it took the FDA and five states to ban Four Loko and its brethren, there were a grand total of zero deaths attributed to the drinks (although the media has certainly tried to blame plenty of other illegal activities on the beverages). For comparison, in the same five and a half week span, over 40,000 people died due to smoking-related complications. By the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s estimates, as many as 5,300 people died from the flu in the same period of time. For further perspective, in June of this year, at least 32 U.S. Army soldiers took their own lives.

On the other hand, nine college freshman have trouble holding their liquor and the government does back-flips to ban, ban, ban as quickly as possible. How can our priorities get any more backward?

An overbearing “nanny” government telling its citizens what’s good for them is anathema to our liberty-based form of government. We’ve tried this before with Prohibition in the 1920’s; the extreme unpopularity of this measure, and resulting crime, forced the government to back off.

What does this ban do other than take products off the market and into the black market? How does it stop the same college freshman from buying a jug of vodka and a case of Red Bull or ordering an Irish coffee at their local bar?

In her statement supporting Washington state’s emergency ban of alcoholic-energy drinks, Governor Christine Gregoire concluded that “[q]uite simply, these drinks are trouble” and that “[b]y taking these drinks off the shelves we are saying "no" to irresponsible drinking.” Funny, I thought that’s what the laws already on the books were for.

In reality, the controversy concerning the supposed danger of drinks like Four Loko is a solution looking for a problem. Alcoholic-energy drinks have been on store shelves since at least 2002. Alcohol usage among young people has either dropped or stayed consistent in the same time period. Even if one wanted to point to some sort of causal relationship, the data isn’t there.

Reactionary banning and regulation by anecdote are no way to run a government and hardly convincing justification for a deprivation of freedom of choice. The only purpose of the government’s heavy-handedness is to appease a media-created panic and the biggest result has been the surge in sales of a product they seek to ban. Instead of trusting adults to act like adults and enforcing the laws against underage drinking as they stand, our government decided to take the liberty-depriving road and ban an entire line of products without so much as a vote.

The only lesson to take away from this disaster of public policy is that if you use a product that pushes the wrong “moral” buttons, cross your fingers that it doesn’t become too popular, lest the government swing by to remind you how you’re supposed to be living your life.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Mark Kogan

Mark is a lawyer and Mic contributor living in Washington, D.C.

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