In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Four Loko Frat Boys Spanked by FTC

February 21, 2013

four loko founders01Phusion Projects is by no means new to the Doghouse - the company's been put in here several times before for its deceptive marketingyouth-oriented approach, and avoidance of regulators (let's not forget its harmful caffeinated alcohol products). Last week, Phusion was reprimanded by the FTC for "falsely claiming that a 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko contains the alcohol equivalent of one or two regular 12-ounce beers, and that a consumer could drink one entire can safely on a single occasion."
The FTC ruling gives Phusion six months to put an Alcohol Facts panel showing the container size, percentage alcohol by volume, number of servings in the container, and serving size in fluid ounces, on containers of Four Loko and any other flavored malt beverage containing more than two servings of alcohol. Phusion also has to make resealable containers for any of its products that contain more than two and a half servings of alcohol (something Phusion said it would do back when the agreement was originally proposed in 2011, but hasn't since implemented without a little push from the FTC). 
Accurate labels on all alcoholic beverages - beer, wine, spirits, and alcopops alike - should have been placed on the containers decades ago. Resealable containers are barely a bandage on a much larger wound - there is no evidence that resealable containers of youth-oriented, high-ABV alcopops will discourage dangerous binge drinking and the harm that results. These two steps won't get these deadly products off the shelves of convenience, grocery, and neighborhood corner stores. Phusion will still produce supersized products that contain extreme amounts of alcohol per container and are clearly designed to be bright, exciting, and attractive to kids. 
Despite the action taken by the FTC, more meaningful change is still necessary for Phusion, other alcopops producers, and the rest of the industry. Diageo hailed the FTC ruling immediately after the story broke, with Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) following along in agreement. When Diageo North America EVP Guy L. Smith - the guy who coined the term "serial alcophobe" to insult professionals who advocate for population-based alcohol policy that actually reduces alcohol-related harm - hails a decision, it doesn't bode well for public health.

Vaportini: Drunk on Fumes?

January 29, 2013

It's like something out of a bad 70's sci-fi flick: a product called the "Vaportini," Chicago bar owner Julie Palmer's new brainchild, bypasses pouring and swallowing and lets people inhale alcohol vapors through a straw.
The device heats spirits into vapors for users to inhale, rather than drinking the alcohol out of a glass. The concept - not unlike smoking heroin or crack cocaine - allows would-be drinkers to consume alcohol while simply breathing. The implications are obviously stark. Alcoholic vapors filling the air make it much harder for drinkers to track how much they've ingested, and much harder to avoid second-hand smoke effects that could impair other individuals without their knowledge or consent.
The product's website claims that it makes it easier to "responsibly imbibe." The website also calls the ingestion process "simple, natural and enjoyable," and says "the effects are felt immediately because the alcohol is going directly through the bloodstream. Most people experience a relaxed and mellow feeling." The Federal Trade Commission should review the Vaportini marketing materials, including web content, to ensure they don't promote misleading or deceptive claims about the product's advantages and effects.
Ultimately, the product may be a big flop at the hands of drinkers who see no need for this gimmick. Other products that allowed people to inhale alcohol have come and gone, and many states have banned devices that vaporize alcohol. But just a few states have language that could include this type of product. Oklahoma and Missouri are two examples of states with laws that do not allow devices like the Vaportini. Lawmakers should propose language to address this problem in their home states immediately.
The list of ways that alcohol contributes to harm and costs for that harm is already long enough - Inhaling alcohol doesn't need to shoot to the top, or even make the list at all.

Colorado Lawmaker Proposes to Let Parents Expose their Kids to Alcohol

GregBrophyJanuary 16, 2013

As the ink dries on marijuana legalization in Colorado, State Senator Greg Brophy (R - Wray) launched into the new legislative session last week with a proposal to allow parents to purchase alcohol for their underage children anywhere where alcohol can legally be consumed. His reasoning? Brophy took his daughter out for her 20th birthday and was miffed that he couldn’t legally buy her a drink. On his Facebook wall, he ranted: "Why on earth would you want to deny responsible parents the chance to expose their own kids to the effects of this product while with their parents?"

Brophy's bill is misguided and dangerous. Brophy wants to give parents the chance to expose their kids to the effects of a product that is responsible for, among other effects, the deaths of more than 5,000 youth under the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) in the U.S. each year. Studies have repeatedly shown that alcohol can cause permanent impairment in brain development and functioning in youth younger than 21 years old. Consuming alcohol prior to age 21 greatly increases one's chance of developing alcohol dependency later in life.
Conversely, an MLDA of 21 results in fewer traffic fatalities and other deaths, injuries, and other alcohol-related harm among underage drinkers. Contrary to Brophy’s suggestion that kids should learn to drink with their parents before leaving home with “unfettered” access to alcohol, students attending colleges and universities where the MLDA is strongly enforced are less likely to drink excessively. The MLDA is one of the most well-researched areas of public health and alcohol policy, and the findings are consistent: the 21 drinking age saves lives and reduces alcohol-related harm.
Brophy's proposal also would allow for parents of underage military personnel to buy their children drinks after they return home from service. In other words, he'd like young servicemen and women who come home alive to access a product that is likely to hurt them. There are better ways to say thank you to young veterans for putting their lives on the line.