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May 8, 2007 | Tate Linden
It certainly beats banning them outright, doesn't it?

I'm really not quite sure how I feel about this story:
An energy drink called Cocaine that was pulled from store shelves in Illinois last week is being discontinued nationwide.

The company that produces the drink said today it's pulling the drink because of concerns about its name.
What the company doesn't say is that some states had banned the sale of the product because they felt it glamorized drug use. So - I've a strong feeling that this was less about "concerns" and more about "bottom lines."

The company is taking the step of re-naming their product.

As I think about it more I think I am leaning towards an opinion... I don't like it. There are quite a few reasons to be concerned. A few right off the top of my head:
  1. Free Speech: Do companies have a right to sell products with provocative names that do not cross the line into profanity? Heck, do they have the right to sell products with profane names? It seems to me that the answer to the first should be "yes." The answer to the second question I'm not as sure about. I've strong opinions about free speech and its value - and limiting someone's ability to say a word or sell a product is a step that I'm not sure we should have taken here.
  2. Censorship: Similarly, I hadn't heard any advertisements about the product. Only the media (and we bloggers) were giving it publicity. I can understand the FCC cracking down on this if they broadcast it - but they didn't (as far as I know.) It is fine for the press and public to criticize a product and say that it shouldn't be sold - but for the government to act on these opinions and force the company to rename is different. Opinions are one thing. Enforcing opinions leads to censorship.
  3. Where do all the bad products go?: The only reason anyone was buying this drink was to push the envelope and show how edgy they were. From the folks I know that have tried it I've heard it tastes horrible. Have a crappy product? Give it a name that pushes people's buttons. Make it collectible. It is a time honored tradition to find ways to move product. Saying that certain types of names are off limits for no reason other than that they offend some people's delicate sensibilities (there's no profanity here, remember) means that products without strong appeal in and of themselves will have a harder time selling. That's great for product quality overall, but bad for the average or below average product that loses an escape route.
  4. Slippery Slope: Okay, so we know "Cocaine" isn't allowed. What about "Dope", "Morphine", "Speedball", "Ganja", "Uppers", "Drug of Choice" and the like? Are all of them not allowed? How about naming an energy drink "Vodka?" Would that be allowed? Or "Binge/Purge" because that would glamorize a sickness. Or "Steak" because Vegans everywhere would be upset. Or "Eenryg" - because it might offend dyslexics.
  5. A Clueless FDA sez What?: In a warning letter to Redux - the folks behind the Cocaine drink - the FDA claims that the product being sold is not only a drug, but a new one:"Your product, Cocaine, is a drug, as defined by Section 201(g)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(1), because it is intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, 21 U.S.C. §§ 321(g), 321(ff), and 343(r)(6). Moreover, this product is a new drug, as defined by Section 201(p) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(p), because it is not generally recognized as safe and effective for its labeled uses. Under Sections 301(d) and 505(a) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 331(d) and 355(a), a new drug may not be introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce unless an FDA-approved application is in effect for it. Your sale of Cocaine without an approved application violates these provisions of the Act."
Yes, Cocaine is a provocative name. It was named purely as a PR stunt and it worked. (Sadly.) But no one is claiming that there is actual cocaine in the product. Note that the FDA hasn't taken action against Sunny Delight - and these people are selling cancer (or is it instant immolation) in a bottle! Imagine if a piece of the sun were to get into the hands of an unsuspecting consumer! Oooh! Or what about Victoria's Secret? What if her secret was actually cocaine? Sounds like we'd have to ban it, right?

Both the FDA and consumers at large are smarter than this, aren't they?

The real reason I'm a bit up in arms about the action taken here is that there is no law that I know of that prevents people from selling products named after illicit drugs. I remember there were nail polishes a couple years back that referenced illicit sex and drug use. Why didn't we ban them?

C'mon US and state governments - if you're going to ban something with the backing of the government YOU NEED TO PASS A LAW MAKING IT ILLEGAL. Until that time you're just using knee-jerk censorship.

So knock it off. Let Cocaine (the non-controlled energy drink) be sold. Figure out how to limit commerce in a way that isn't going to backfire (no "I know it when I see it" stuff) and put it on the books.

Namers across the land will thank you. Or at least I will.

And if I'm mistaken and there IS a law about names that glorify certain substances I'd love to hear about it.

Tate Linden Principal- Stokefire 703-778-9925
3 Comments
Doc Mike May 8, 2007 1:54 PM

I had a long rant about caffeine (America's only socially acceptable stimulant...except maybe Ritalin), but I seem to

have deleted it. The take home message was: You can name a drink Coca-Cola (short for Cocaine-Kola--used to contain

cocaine, but now has only caffeine to keep people drinking it), but you can't name a drink Cocaine (even if it only

contains caffeine to ensure people keep drinking it).
Hey, is the Cocaine Company really called Redux? (Redux was an extremely popular diet pill that was

pulled from the market in the late 90s because it was causing heart valve failure and pulmonary hypertension...there's

some legend about Alexander Haig manipulating the FDA voting process to get it approved in the first place).

Tate Linden May 8, 2007 4:04 PM

Too bad. I've had a run of posts eaten by the Internet gods myself. I think it has something to do with trying to link to to many items... or perhaps it has to do with the delete button going all pear shaped. I'm not really sure. Both have led to post eatage.
Redux Beverages is indeed the maker of the drink.

Kelly May 19, 2007 8:43 AM

That was surprising to hear.