CSPI Sues to Stop MillerCoors' 'Sparks' Alcoholic Energy Drink

Caffeinated Booze Linked to Binge Drinking, Drunk Driving, and Assaults

Sep 08, 2008, 01:00 ET from Center for Science in the Public Interest

    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