The much frowned-upon alcoholic beverage Four Loko is currently under review again for how it presents itself and its alcohol content. The Federal Trade Commission is weighing further action—especially now that many members of the public and health professionals have joined a campaign to write in and sway its hand. The FTC has said that Four Loko is implied to have the same amount of alcohol as two beers—but at 12% alcohol in a super-sized can, it’s really closer to four or five. Four Loko brokered a deal with the FTC last year to switch to a resealable can—displaying a warning that one full serving is as alcohol-heavy as four beers—to dissuade drinkers from downing the lot at one sitting.
The FTC then asked for public comments on this settlement—and got them. Over 200 critics have written to say it’s not enough, and that the product’s fruity flavors and colorful packaging—neon-colored camouflage print described by the New York Times as “what an army of Teletubbies would wear into battle”—are a clear attempt to entice underage drinkers. Four Loko’s founders previously told The Fix that the colorful design was “so it would pop off the shelf,” rather than to tempt teenagers. “We never had a conversation where we said we want people under 21 to drink our product,” said Jaisen Freeman, one of the drink’s creators. “We don’t win in those scenarios.”
In 2010, the FDA neutered the drink’s caffeine content after Four Loko-fueled alcohol poisonings piled up: “We were looking at $25 million in inventory [to be destroyed],” Four Loko’s founders told us last year. The FTC might soon send them back to the drawing board again. Many of the comments recently received by the FTC want Four Loko to lower its alcohol content—or even an outright ban, although the FTC has no such authority. The final decision on whether to approve or alter the current settlement is expected in the next two months.