FTC to Four Loko: Relabel and reseal

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It’s not likely your favorite sommelier stocks it, but Four Loko — a supersized, high-alcohol, fruit-flavored, carbonated malt beverage — is a well-known drink in certain circles.

Today’s settlement with Phusion Projects requires the company to relabel and repackage the product in response to FTC charges of false advertising.  According to the FTC, ads for Four Loko falsely claimed that a 23.5-ounce, 11 or 12 percent alcohol by volume can contains the alcohol equivalent of one or two regular 12-ounce beers and that someone could safely a drink a can in one sitting.  How much alcohol was really in a can of Four Loko?  The same as in about 4½ beers.  So drinking just one can of Four Loko could amount to “binge drinking,” defined by health officials as men drinking five or more standard alcoholic drinks in about two hours — and women drinking four.

But what if several people take out the cut crystal decanter and split a Four Loko?  Not likely.  The complaint cites promotional materials that characterized the 23.5-ounce non-resealable can as a “single.”  In addition, ads depicted individuals drinking a can themselves.  For example, the caption of a photo of three young men posted by the company as part of a contest said, “first guy drank 1, second guy drank 2, third guy drank 3, fourth guy was on the ground.”

The FTC settlement requires Phusion Projects to include disclosures on containers of Four Loko or any other flavored malt beverage of a certain size stating how much alcohol is in the drink compared to the amount of alcohol in regular beer.  The order also specifies the location and appearance of the disclosure.  Starting six months after the settlement takes effect, the company is required to use only resealable containers for flavored malt beverages that have more alcohol than the equivalent of 2½ regular beers.

Even if you’re not an aficionado of fruit punch- or watermelon-flavored carbonated malt beverages, the Four Loko name may still be familiar to you.  In November 2010, the FTC sent warning letters to Phusion Projects and three other companies raising concerns that marketing alcoholic beverages containing caffeine could constitute an unfair or deceptive practice.  The companies later agreed to remove the caffeine and other stimulants from their beverages.

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