Beverage companies that sell alcoholic energy drinks were harshly criticized Tuesday by more than two dozen state attorneys general who...
HARTFORD, Conn. — Beverage companies that sell alcoholic energy drinks were harshly criticized Tuesday by more than two dozen state attorneys general who want federal officials to examine the ingredients and marketing of the drinks they say are aimed at underage customers.
In a letter to John Manfreda, the administrator of the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the attorneys general of 28 states — including Washington — and Washington, D.C., and Guam say aggressive, possibly fraudulent marketing of energy drinks mixing alcohol and caffeine targets teenagers and young adults who buy nonalcoholic energy drinks.
“Nonalcoholic energy drinks are very popular with today’s youth,” Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers said. “Beverage companies are unconscionably appealing to young drinkers with claims about the stimulating properties of alcoholic energy drinks.”
The attorneys general singled out Miller Brewing for Sparks and Sparks Plus, Anheuser-Busch for Bud Extra and Charge Beverages of Portland for its Liquid Charge and Liquid Core drinks.
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Anheuser-Busch Vice President Francine Katz said the attorneys general should focus on restricting youth access to alcohol, particularly hard-liquor products that can have 10 times the alcohol by volume as malt beverages. The feds already approved the Bud Extra labeling, she said.
“This product is simply a malt beverage that contains caffeine and is clearly marked as containing alcohol,” Katz said. “In fact, Bud Extra has less caffeine than a 12-ounce Starbucks coffee.”
The attorneys general are not so sure about the drinks’ ingredients. They requested a federal investigation into the makeup of alcoholic energy drinks and other flavored malt beverages to determine whether they are properly classified as malt beverages under federal law. The malt-beverage classification, in many states, enables cheaper and broader sale of these drinks, making them more readily available to youth than distilled spirits.
Julian Green, spokesman for Miller Brewing, said Sparks was created only for customers who are of legal drinking age. “There is no nonalcoholic version of Sparks. We work closely with the Trade and Tax Bureau to ensure that all of our products meet federal regulatory requirements,” he said.
Calls to Charge Beverages in Portland were not returned.
The attorneys general said several advertisements make misleading health-related claims such as increasing stamina and energy. They said the companies’ marketing warrants investigation and possible enforcement action.