WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The nonprofit Center for
Science in the Public Interest today filed suit
(http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/complaint_millercoors.pdf) against MillerCoors
Brewing Company, formerly Miller, over its alcoholic energy drink, Sparks.
The product has more alcohol than regular beer and contains unapproved
additives, including the stimulants caffeine and guarana. The lawsuit is
asking the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors
from selling the controversial drink, which is also under scrutiny from
state attorneys general.
Drinkers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are more likely to binge
drink, ride with an intoxicated driver, become injured, or be taken
advantage of sexually than drinkers of non-caffeinated alcoholic drinks,
according to a 2007 study conducted at Wake Forest University.
Sparks contain 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to regular
beer, which typically has 4 or 5 percent alcohol. Also unlike beer, Sparks'
appeal to young people is enhanced by its sweet citrusy taste, redolent of
SweeTarts candy, and the bright color of orange soda. (Sparks Light also
contains the artificial sweetener sucralose). In October, MillerCoors plans
to release Sparks Red, which will have 8 percent alcohol by volume.
"MillerCoors is trying to hook teens and 'tweens on a dangerous drink,"
said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "This company's behavior is
reckless, predatory, and in the final analysis, likely to disgust a judge
or a jury."
Sparks' juvenile web site and guerilla marketing appeal to young
consumers, according to CSPI. The web site offers a recipe for a drink
called a "Lunchbox," consisting of half Miller beer and half Sparks, and
elsewhere, the site proposes consuming Sparks for breakfast alongside
omelets. The company also hosts give-aways of Sparks at house parties,
sponsors events unrelated to beer such as art shows, and engages in other
unconventional marketing practices, according to the Milwaukee Journal
Sentinel. CSPI's court filing notes that private gatherings such as house
parties do not have the same licensing or other safeguards as public
establishments that prevent minors from accessing alcohol.
"Mix alcohol and stimulants with a young person's sense of
invincibility and you have a recipe for disaster," said George A. Hacker,
director of CSPI's alcohol policies project. "Sparks is a drink designed to
mask feelings of drunkenness and to encourage people to keep drinking past
the point at which they otherwise would have stopped. The end result is
more drunk driving, more injuries, and more sexual assaults."
According to a 2006 study, the stimulants in these products do not
reduce alcohol's negative effects on motor skills and reaction times but do
impair people's perception of intoxication. As a result, drinkers may
engage in risky behavior, such as driving, because they feel less drunk but
in reality are too intoxicated to get behind the wheel.
CSPI's lawsuit also contends that it is illegal to use caffeine,
guarana, ginseng, and taurine in alcoholic beverages. The federal agency
with primary responsibility for regulating alcoholic beverages, the
Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau, says alcoholic beverages may
contain only ingredients considered General Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, by
the Food and Drug Administration. But the FDA has given only very narrow
approval for caffeine and guarana -- with no allowance for alcoholic drinks
-- and no approval for ginseng in any food or beverage. Taurine is only
approved for use in chicken feed, not human food.
In February, CSPI notified Anheuser-Busch and Miller of its intent to
sue both companies over caffeinated alcoholic drinks. In June,
Anheuser-Busch entered into separate agreements with CSPI and 11 state
attorneys general in which the brewer agreed to take caffeine and other
unapproved additives out of its two alcoholic energy drinks, Bud Extra and
Tilt. Anheuser-Busch paid the 11 states $200,000 to reimburse them for the
cost of the investigation and called on other brewers and distillers not to
market pre-packaged caffeinated alcoholic drinks.
That agreement with Anheuser-Busch was the first alcohol-related
accomplishment for CSPI's litigation project. Since its founding in 2005,
CSPI's litigation unit has, on its own or in cooperation with private law
firms, negotiated settlements or voluntary changes to marketing practices
with Airborne, Kellogg, Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats, and others.
SOURCE Center for Science in the Public Interest