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States ban Four Loko, Ohio not following suit

Joe Podelco / The Lantern

Although some states’ Liquor Control Commissions have been taking action against the alcoholic drink Four Loko and similar products, Ohio has made no public moves to follow suit.

Ohio’s Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control will not authorize a ban on the products unless there is a change in state legislation, said Cara Keithley, the chief of communications for the Division of Liquor Control.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation,” Keithley said. “However, a legislative change would be needed to the statute in order for the superintendent to disapprove a product.”

Keithley’s statement comes amid recent national concern about Four Loko after nine students at Central Washington University were hospitalized after consuming large quantities of the beverage Oct. 8. Now, some government officials are pushing to remove the drink from store shelves.

Michigan recently issued a statewide ban on Four Loko and similar products. The ban includes 55 alcoholic energy drink products and requires state vendors to pull the drinks from shelves within 30 days.

According to a statement from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, “The decision was made in light of several studies regarding alcohol energy drinks, the widespread community concerns aired by substance abuse prevention groups, parent groups and various members of the public, as well as the FDA’s decision to further investigate these products.”

Phusion Projects, the Chicago-based manufacturer of Four Loko that was created by three Ohio State alumni, opposed the ban and said in a statement that it plans to challenge it.

“We intend to pursue all legal options and vigorously challenge the Commission’s action as procedurally and substantively deficient, well before the ban would go into effect,” the Nov. 4 statement said.

Although Michigan is only the second state to impose a statewide ban, Utah being the first, some states and cities have taken other actions.

Utah and Oklahoma have bans similar to those in Michigan, according to The Associated Press.

On Thursday, an emergency ban will take effect in Washington state. Vendors will have one week to clear their shelves of alcoholic energy drinks, according to AP reports. The ban will be in place for 120 days but could be made permanent after that.

On Nov. 3, the Chicago City Council discussed a proposal to ban alcoholic energy drinks in the city. Pennsylvania, although not explicitly banning the products, has encouraged vendors to voluntarily pull the drinks from their shelves.

Many of New York’s largest vendors are also voluntarily pulling the products after pressure from state lawmakers, according to a statement from New York’s Liquor Authority.

The Ohio Attorney General’s office will not confirm or deny any move to ban the drink, but there have been no public moves to change state law, said Kim Kowalski, a spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

“We haven’t done anything public,” Kowalski said.

Kowalski told The Lantern on Oct. 27, “We cannot confirm or deny any investigations into banning the drink statewide.” She said that is still the case.

Other universities in Ohio have differing views on the drink, but so far, none have banned alcoholic energy drinks.

The University of Cincinnati doesn’t see a problem with such drinks and has no plans to ban them, said M.B. Reilly, the assistant director of public relations for the university.

“So far, we have no evidence that Four Loko is a problem on the campus,” Reilly said.

Although Bowling Green State University has no plans to ban Four Loko, it is concerned about such products, said David Kielmeyer, the senior communications director for the university.

“It is something, a trend, that we’re worried about,” Kielmeyer said.

Four Loko is not sold on Bowling Green’s campus, but Kielmeyer said the university is working with local vendors to monitor its consumption.

“We are planning to do some outreach with the bar owners,” Kielmeyer said. “‘Pressure’ is too strong of a word,” but school officials hope to educate the local bar owners about possible issues with Four Loko, he said.

Officials from Ohio University and Case Western Reserve University did not respond to requests for comment on the subject.

Ohio State officials previously told The Lantern that Four Loko and similar products will be allowed on campus for those who are 21 years old unless state law prohibits the drinks.

“The university doesn’t sell it, so we wouldn’t ban it,” said Amy Murray, the assistant director of Media Relations at OSU.

Unless Ohio’s government officials change the law, it appears Four Loko is here to stay for OSU students and other Ohioans.

“To my understanding,” Keithley said, “in order to ban that type of beverage, it has to be an act of the legislature.”

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