Cans of Four Loko have been flying off campus store shelves since the Michigan Liquor Control Commission banned the caffeinated alcoholic drink earlier this month, according to many area party store owners.
Though some local party store owners have noticed only modest increases in sales of the drink nicknamed “blackout in a can,” many report dramatic spikes — with some stores like A & L Wine Castle on West Stadium Boulevard seeing a five-fold increase compared to sales before the announcement of the ban. Store owners attribute the uptick in sales to students stocking up on the drink before it disappears from store shelves.
The beverage, which has been reported to have adverse side effects on consumers, contains as much alcohol as four beers and the same amount of caffeine found in three to four cups of coffee.
David Breher, manager of the Main Street Party Store on North Main Street, said his store has experienced a 20-percent increase in Four Loko sales since the ban.
Breher, who is opposed to the ban, said he thinks people will continue to purchase and consume alcoholic drinks, regardless of the ban on a specific product.
“I’m not much for the government banning things. We still sell 40-percent alcoholic drinks and higher, and we have 101-51-proof rum on our shelves that people have killed themselves on,” he said. “I think that it is up to the consumers to be careful and to make their own choices.”
Maher Jaboro, co-owner of A & L Wine Castle, also said he noticed greater interest in the drink. Before Four Loko was prohibted, Jaboro said he sold one case each week. Since the ban, he has sold about five cases a week.
He added that he thinks the measure is unjustified.
“There’s a lot of things that are similar or even worse, and (the commission is) just going after one particular drink. It’s just not right,” Jaboro said. “Before it used to be they were after it because it looked like an Arizona Iced Tea can, but it’s not 12 year olds that are buying it, it’s adults that are buying it.”
Kinesiology senior Will Cook shared a similar opinion as Jaboro, noting that students can make their own Four Loko-style drinks by mixing alcohol and caffeine.
“My problem with the ban is that there is already alcohol and stimulants out there, and they’re forcing the makers of the drink to not put those two things together, which is not effective in my opinion because people are just going to get Red Bull and drink it with vodka anyways,” he said.
According to Jaboro, this isn’t the first time a product has garnered interest after being prohibited, citing a recent ban on whipped cream vodka.
“The state banned it only because of the fact that it was whipped cream,” Jaboro said. “As soon as it came out, we got it in, people were really interested in it, and when it got banned people bought it out.”
Jerome Kamano, manager of the Diag Party Shoppe on North State Street, said he has seen a “big jump” in the number of students buying Four Loko. He added that he thinks customers are buying the drink not because they enjoy it but because they want to try it before it’s no longer available for purchase.
“I don’t think they bought it to stock up because it was so good,” Kamano said. “I think more people bought it just to try it.”
After learning about the dangerous effect the product has had on students, Kamano said he supported the ban.
“We sell a full line of liquor, but I think the problem (with Four Loko) was the caffeine,” he said. “I guess because of the mixture of alcohol and caffeine it’s been affecting a lot of the students in a bad way. It was right for it to be banned.”
Though Four Loko sales have been boosting recent business, all the owners said the ban would not affect their stores because it’s only one product being taken off shelves.
“When a party store has over 1,000 items, just one item is not going to affect (business) like if you banned a whole liquor shelf…Unless it was banned on campus only, then students would go somewhere else to buy it, and we would lose business,” Kamano said. “But since it’s banned across state, it’s not affecting anyone other than the Four Loko company.”
Sierra Ruiz, a sophomore at the University’s Flint campus, said in an interview in the Michigan Union that she supported the ban because she thinks the mixture of caffeine and alcohol is unhealthy.
“It’s making people do stupid things faster. I actually went to a Four Loko going-away party, so they had bought a lot of Four Loko flavors,” Ruiz said. “I only had one can, and I was done for the night. It is one of those things where it is dangerous. People are drinking it like it is punch, but it’s not really safe.”
Western Michigan University senior Rachel Jackson said in an interview on the Michigan Union steps that though she enjoyed drinking the beverage, she doesn’t blame the MLCC for banning it for safety reasons.
“I think it sucks that it’s banned, but I kind of understand why; it’s a blackout in a can,” she said. “I have blacked out almost every time, but it tastes so good and it’s so functional. It makes sense but I’m going to miss it.”