Noted medical authorities and Chicago aldermen Ed Burke and Gene Schulter rose today to protect us from caffeinated alcoholic beverages. They want them banned in the city of Chicago. Their proposal was sent for consideration to a Joint Committee of Finance and License and Consumer Protection. (I last wrote about this subject here.)
According to Dr. Burke, "it is a dangerous cocktail which can lead to dangerous situations for young people who may be totally unaware of how inebriated they have become in such a short period of time." The press release from the Committee on Finance further asserts that "caffeinated alcoholic drinks have already resulted in a rash of cases of college-aged students being sent to emergency rooms after drinking the beverages."
Then listen to what Dr. Schulter has to say about it: "Quite frankly, I think it is completely irresponsible to manufacture and market a product that can make young people so intoxicated, so fast."
According to the press release's own 'facts,' drinking a 23.5 ounce can of one of these products is like drinking four to six beers and one cup of coffee. Oh, the horror.
Most of the 'facts' on which Drs. Burke and Schulter* rely seem to come from a story reported last week by CNN. "Reported" may give CNN too much credit, since it originated with the neo-prohibitionist Center for Science in the Public Interest.
According the CNN story, a 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko, one of the offending products, contains either 6 or 12 percent alcohol by volume, depending on state regulations. A typical table wine is about 12 percent alcohol. It's a stretch to say, even at 12 percent, that it is equivalent to up to six beers, but stretching the truth is what demagoguery is all about.
Have you ever had a couple glasses of Chardonnay either preceded or followed by a cup of coffee? How about a rum and Coke, or Jack and Coke? How about a Red Bull and vodka? There you go, living on the edge.
Do many young adults abuse alcohol with bad, even tragic, consequences? Of course they do. Do they often get into trouble because they are working with incomplete, false or misleading information? Constantly. Is the solution for headline-seeking politicians to muddy the water with more false and misleading information? I don't think so.
This particular lie is dangerous because it fosters the myth that some kinds of alcoholic beverages are inherently more dangerous than others. If that's true, then so is the reverse, that some are inherently less dangerous than others. How many parents have rationalized their child's underage drinking with, "it's only beer"? How many people say they "don't drink," except for "a little white wine"? Champagne is considered so celebratory, many people don't even think of it as drinking.
The reality--and what we should teach kids--is that alcohol is alcohol, period. The only thing that matters, in terms of intoxication and other health effects, is how much alcohol you consume and how fast you consume it. If you want to help young people make smart choices about alcohol, start with this simple proposition.
Tell them the truth.
* A note to my out-of-town readers. Drs. Burke and Schulter received their medical training at the U-Gotta-Prob-Em-Wit-Dat School of Medicine.