Four Loko Becomes Target of Underage Drinking

December 13, 2010

Underage drinking may not seem like a big problem in Bedford-Stuyvesant. But it is a huge problem, says Christine Fonseca, 25, founder of The Bed-Stuy Drug-Free Coalition.

Born and raised in Bed-Stuy, Fonseca grew up observing that underage drinking was a problem in her neighborhood. This motivated her to go to work for the Alcoholism Council for New York. One of the goals of the Alcoholism Council is to build grassroots coalitions that improve the overall health of the community. From this position, Fonseca began building the volunteer-run drug-free coalition in Bed-Stuy in January 2010.

“Too often we see that the norm in our community is for parents to allow their kids to drink right in front of them,” said Fonseca. “We see young kids drinking and smoking right in front of us, and we think it is okay. But it’s not okay.

“As a community we need to remind parents about the dangers of drinking, because drinking leads to so many things; it leads to domestic violence, rape, unwanted pregnancy and depression.”

That’s why when Fonseca learned that eight college students in New York were hospitalized earlier this year from alcohol poisoning by the same popular new beverage, “Four Loko,” she knew it was time to the Bed-Stuy Drug-Free Coalition to investigate and react.

One look at the drink, and it’s no wonder why it appeals to young people, said Fonseca: The tall, brightly colored cans resemble Arizona Iced Teas. The drink comes in watermelon, fruit punch and mango.  They are part-caffeine, part-alcohol (10%). But the size of the can makes the drink equivalent to six beers and one Red Bull.

“The look of it… it’s colorful and it has bubble letters, so you could easily confuse it for juice,” Fonseca said. Last summer, when the Bed-Stuy Drug-Free Coalition did a workshop with local youth looking for alcohol advertising in their community, they were shocked to find twenty-eight ads in the Nostrand Avenue station of the A/C train alone.  “Young people see the ads and they think it’s normal to consume alcohol. Plus, a lot of our local Bodegas are not even checking for I.D.’s”

She found that Bed-Stuy teens not only could access alcohol very easy, but that they tend to drink a lot at homes, as opposed to on the street. Because of this reason, the problem is not as easily identifiable. But it is there, she insists. So the coalition started its own awareness campaign, spreading as much news as possible about the drink to community groups and churches across Bed-Stuy.

Fonseca’s efforts, coupled with the negative publicity the drink was receiving across all of New York City prompted the company to pull the drink from all stores in New York State beginning December 10th.  The University of Rhode Island and the State of Washington both have banned the drink, due to concerns that its consumption was causing injuries and blackouts.

However, Fonseca warns, many of the Bodegas have residual inventory. “So if you see it on any of the shelves at the local Bodegas, report it to your local police precinct,” Fonseca said.

This Thursday, December 16th, the Coalition will hold an open community board meeting at the Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation, on the 6th floor, from 6pm to 8pm. If concerned citizens would like to join the Coalition at their next meeting, they will be working to determine their action plan for next year, as well as brainstorm ideas on continually preventing underage drinking in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community.

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