A Philosopher's Blog

Blackout Ban

Posted in Ethics, Law by Michael LaBossiere on November 22, 2010

While drinking until the blackout state is not uncommon among college students, products such as Four Loco changed the drinking game a bit.

What makes drinks like Four Loco special is that they blend a relatively high (relative to beer anyway) alcohol content with a relatively high caffeine content. They also tend to be very cheap relative to other drinks and come in rather large cans relative to the standard beer.

Because of the cheap price and the size of the can, drinkers can get a lot of alcohol for relatively little money and this enables them to drink more. However, what makes them especially dangerous is the caffeine. This enables drinkers to keep on going past the point at which they would normally be forced to stop drinking. This is, of course, why such drinks were making the news: college students were being found blacked out. In some cases, they were originally thought to have been drugged but the damage turned out to be self-inflicted. It is because of the risk posed by these drinks that some think they should not be sold.

On one hand, this seems to be a reasonable and morally correct view. After all, this sort of product has been shown to present a clear danger and the state has a moral duty to protect citizens from harmful products.

However, banning the blackout cans would have but a slight impact on the number of drinking disasters, since students will continue to drink excessively as they have done in the past. The main change is that students will have to go back to getting drunk the way they did before the Four Loco style products hit the market. Also, now that many more students and other drinkers know about the power of caffeine, they can easily make their own blackout drinks by mixing energy drinks with their alcohol of choice. As such, the ban on the blackout could be seen as a mere gesture intended to address a  very specific matter that momentarily made headlines. The underlying causes of the excess drinking and the means to engage in it would remain untouched by the ban. In effect, the drinkers would be only slightly inconvenienced.

To use an analogy, this would be a bit like trying to stop gun deaths by merely banning the sale of preloaded guns, but still allowing people to buy guns and bullets.

It could be replied that the ban will help protect some people: those who do not really understand the power of the blackout can or those who are too lazy to mix alcohol and caffeine on their own. So, perhaps the ban would provide a slight improvement. At least until the next drinking fad comes along.

On the other hand, it could be argued that the ban infringes the rights of the drinkers and the manufacturers of the blackout cans. If it is accepted that people should have the liberty to consume/sell alcohol and caffeine, then it would seem that banning the sale of a product that combines them would violate such liberties. After all, the combination of the two does not create a new drug (like meth) and people still retain the right to mix their own. This would be like arguing that while people have  a right to buy Gatorade mix and water, they have no right to buy pre-mixed Gatorade. So, it could be argued, consistency requires that either the ban extend to all alcohol and caffeine or that the ban be lifted on the blackout cans.

In reply, it could be argued that the blackout cans present a special danger that is not presented by alcohol, caffeine or home made mixes of either. As such, banning it is legitimate since it would protect some people who would otherwise be harmed by the blackout cans.

As noted above, there are probably some drinkers who did not realize exactly what they were getting into when they started drinking from the blackout cans and who did not want (or were too lazy) to mix caffeine and alcohol on their own. These are the sorts of people who would be protected by the ban.  In this case, the state would be limiting liberty to protect those who have poor judgment (or who are lazy).

However, this sort of ban would have a fairly minimal impact. As has been argued, it would only protect those who would only be harmed by the blackout cans and not by other ways of getting drunk. Those who will continue to drink stupidly would not be protected. As such, it would seem to be inconsistent to ban the blackout cans to protect people without banning alcohol and/or caffeine.

This sort of limited ban is, of course, to be expected. These sorts of problems are “addressed” by very limited means aimed at whatever happens to be getting media attention. Meanwhile, the underlying causes and means remain in place.

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8 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on November 22, 2010 at 6:40 am

    Since most of the damage done by this type of behavior is limited to the one doing the drinking, and the fact that neither caffeine nor alcohol are banned substances, I’m against this banning.

    Of course, there is always “huffing”; taking a perfectly legal can of spray paint and using it to get high. That’s illegal in every state as far as I know.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on November 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I had frankly never heard of these drinks until a few days ago. I would think that a public awareness campaign should be tried first instead of rushing to a ban. Extra care is clearly needed when they are used.

    • kernunos said, on November 22, 2010 at 7:17 pm

      How about …….Don’t drink too much just like beer, vodka, whisky………..etc?

  3. [...] While drinking until the blackout state is not uncommon among college students, products such as Four Loco changed the drinking game a bit. What makes drinks like Four Loco special is that they blend a relatively high (relative to beer anyway) alcohol content with a relatively high caffeine content. They also tend to be very cheap relative to other drinks and come in rather large cans relative to the standard beer. Because of the cheap price and … Read More [...]

  4. kernunos said, on November 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Caffeine does not effect how much or how long someone can drink. I think it probably has more to do with damaging the heart while confusing the body. Example, people having cardiac arrests more often while doing cocaine and pain pills combined. and size of the drink really doesn’t have much to do with it either. If it was .00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 % alcohol it could be in a 55 gallon drum.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm

      I should have been clearer: it is a big drink with a relatively high alcohol content (relative to the usual beer of choice).

  5. kernunos said, on November 22, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    This new craze makes it sound as if there was not a problem with youngsters getting alcohol poisoning before combining uppers and downers(…and that was a long time ago.). Nothing to see here. You have been cught by the next ‘shiny thing’ in the media.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 22, 2010 at 10:01 pm

      Not at all-one of my points is that the ban is the response to people being caught by the shiny thing.


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