New Jersey school forbids Four Loko

Ramapo College officials prohibit caffeinated alcoholic beverage, cites 23 recent incidents as grounds for ban

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A public university in New Jersey recently banned students from drinking Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic drink, following a string of health- and safety-related incidents surrounding the drink's consumption.

Ramapo College President Peter Mercer announced the decision to ban the beverage after 17 students and six visitors to the college received medical attention after drinking it.

The ban of Four Loko applies to anyone living on campus, and anyone who possesses the drink on campus will receive an alcohol offense, Mercer stated during an address to students Sept. 29. He mentioned a student who was taken to the emergency room with a .4 blood alcohol content - five times the legal limit in New Jersey - after consuming three cans of Four Loko, or the equivalent of 12 tequila shots.

"We have been seeing Four Loko getting more popular on campus," said Anna Farneski, assistant vice president of marketing and communications for Ramapo College. "We were fearful for the safety of our students. Our president felt the need to protect our students, so he took this action after consulting with the cabinet. Both the students and parents have been supportive."

Jason Shaffer, assistant director of the Gordie Center for Alcohol and Substance Education at the University expressed similar concerns, particularly about the alcohol-energy drink's caffeine amount.\n"Research has shown that people who use alcoholic energy drinks have a higher level of negative consequences than people that have just consumed alcohol without the caffeine," Shaffer said. "The combination of alcohol and caffeine can cause a person to feel more awake and less aware of the effects that the alcohol they have consumed has on them."

The size of the beverage's cans, which totals 23.5 ounces, and the beverage's alcohol content also are cause for concern.

"The cans are about the size of Arizona tea, and there is 12 percent alcohol in a can which is equivalent of a six-pack of beer. Because they're packaged as a pop can, it means that it is meant to be drunk in one sitting as opposed to a bottle with a cap or a cork," he said, adding that students may not be aware of how much alcohol is actually in the drink.

Although the contents of Four Loko have generated concern, Phusion Projects, Inc., the company that distributes Four Loko, maintains that it strives to promote both safe and legal consumption of its product.

The company works with retailers to ensure it is not purchased by underage consumers. Furthermore, the drink's label indicates that the product contains alcohol, can only be consumed by those of age, and has a 12 percent alcohol content.

"We work very hard to ensure our products are consumed safely and responsibly by adults over the age of 21, and we have a vested interest - both personal and professional - in assuring the continued responsible consumption of our products," Phusion Products managing partner Chris Hunter stated in an e-mail.

Hunter also argued that mixing caffeine and alcohol has been a common practice among alcohol consumers.

"No one seems to seriously question whether those practices are inherently unsafe or should be outlawed. In addition, there are literally hundreds of other pre-mixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages being sold and consumed in the U.S., many of which contain more alcohol and more caffeine than our products," he said.

The University is not likely to ban Four Loko beverages until more research proves that the drinks can cause serious harm.

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