It’s been a few years since we’ve really heard about Four Loko, the alcoholic malt beverage that was once highly scrutinized for mixing caffeine and booze and for allegedly marketing to minors. To be honest, outside of this halloween costume from a couple years ago, we didn’t even know the stuff was still around. But today we see that the makers of Four Loko have reached a deal with the attorneys general of 19 states and the City Attorney of San Francisco to make sure its advertising and marketing is targeted at adults.
Among the allegations made by the AGs and the SF City Attorney against Chicago-based Phusion Projects, the makers of Four Loko, were that the company promoted its products to minors; promoted “dangerous and excessive consumption” of Four Loko; and, before the company removed caffeine from its formula in 2011, “failed to disclose to consumers the effects and consequences of drinking alcoholic beverages that are combined with caffeine.”
In addition to paying $400,000, Phusion has agreed to a number of conditions aimed at making Four Loko less appealing to kids under 21.
There are the obvious ones, like not promoting the misuse of alcohol, and continuing to stay out of the caffeinated alcoholic beverage business.
Phusion has also agreed to not promote mixing Four Loko with products containing caffeine (though we’re pretty sure young drinkers don’t need anyone’s help figuring that one out). It won’t hire minors to promote alcoholic products, and it won’t hire models or actors for its promotional materials who are under the age of 25 or who appear to be under the age of 21.
The company won’t market on college property (except inside of stores that are licensed to sell alcohol), and it can’t use the “names, initials, logos, or mascots” of any school, college, university, student organization, sorority, or fraternity in its promotional materials.
“As numerous regulators and the Food and Drug Administration have rightly concluded, alcoholic energy drinks are dangerous—especially for the teenagers and young adults they target,” New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement. “Today’s agreement ensures that one company will no longer market a dangerous product to youth, but we must remain vigilant and continue to seek out dangerous marketing tactics and unsafe beverages that are increasingly sold in stores across the country. I thank my partners in law enforcement for their work in this case and look forward to a continued partnership to promote public health.”
In addition to New York state and the city of San Francisco, the other states represented in this settlement are: Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington.
UPDATE: Jim Sloan, President of Phusion Projects, sent the following statement to Consumerist:
“While our company did not violate any laws and we disagree with the allegations of the State Attorneys General, we consider this agreement a practical way to move forward and an opportunity to highlight our continued commitment to ensuring that our products are consumed safely and responsibly only by adults 21 and over.
The agreement addresses marketing of Phusion’s products through social media. While consumers have the right to voice their opinions on our social media platforms, we do not want to see our products portrayed in an irresponsible manner. For that reason, we monitor our social media sites to remove unacceptable comments or images and utilize age-gates to ensure we are reaching only adults 21 and over. This is not an easy task because of the constantly evolving nature of social media, but it is one we are committed to and take very seriously.
The agreement also notes Phusion’s decision several years ago to reformulate Four Loko to remove caffeine, as well as guarana and taurine. Phusion continues to believe, however, as do many people throughout the world, that the combination of alcohol and caffeine can be consumed safely and responsibly.
As we all know, underage drinking and alcohol abuse are serious problems in need of serious solutions. They will not, however, be solved by singling out specific products or alcoholic beverage categories. The answer lies in increased education, stronger enforcement of existing laws, and personal responsibility. We are pleased that the State Attorneys General have committed to use Phusion’s payment made under the agreement to further these goals in their respective states.
Phusion Projects will continue to undertake and support productive efforts to make sure our products – and all alcoholic beverages – are used legally, safely and responsibly.”