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In our opinion: Four Loko already banned in Utah

Published: Friday, Oct. 29 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

From time to time, Utah gets singled out for criticism because of its government-controlled liquor distribution system. But this week the story should be told of how that system worked extraordinarily well.

While lawmakers, governors and attorneys general in several states are wringing their hands over what to do about new energy drinks that combine high levels of alcohol and caffeine, the issue is nonexistent in Utah. That's because a "listing committee" of the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has already reviewed these drinks and decided they are not to be listed for sale in any state-run liquor store or private retail establishment. People in Utah may order the drinks for themselves through the division under certain rules. But it is virtually impossible to go anywhere in the Beehive State and quickly buy a can of Four Loko, Joose or any other sweet-flavored drink that has become a fad at some college campuses.

That fad led to near tragic results in various parts of the country lately. The most publicized case happened at Central Washington University, where several students had to be hospitalized after drinking Four Loko — a drink that comes in 24-ounce cans and contains 12 percent alcohol and the caffeine equivalent of several cups of coffee. Reports said some of the students had blood-alcohol levels of .30 percent. For comparison purposes, .08 percent is considered legally drunk in Utah.

Meanwhile, six students were hospitalized in New Jersey after consuming the drink, prompting the president of Ramapo College to ban it from campus.

Experts say the combination of caffeine and alcohol gives people the illusion they are not as intoxicated as they actually are, prompting them to drink to levels that could be fatal.

The makers of Four Loko have offered little defense other than to claim they are being unfairly singled out. Indeed, that's true. Other labels that combine alcohol and caffeine are just as dangerous. They, too, are banned in Utah.

Utah's government-controlled liquor system, together with a Legislature that has been keen to pass laws against new products that would lure young people into chemical dependencies, has allowed the state to stay ahead of cunning marketers. Given the scenes these drinks have caused in emergency rooms elsewhere in America, that's something for which people here should be grateful.

Products so obviously harmful and geared toward youth should not be allowed. Now the rest of the nation is scrambling to catch up with Utah.

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