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December 18, 2008

MillerCoors to Discontinue "Sparks" and All "Alcoholic Energy Drinks"

Young people were led to a false belief that high caffeine levels in “alco-pop” drinks counteract the intoxicating effects of alcohol – making drinkers more likely to make unsafe decisions

MillerCoors will stop producing, marketing and selling “Sparks,” its top-selling pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks, Attorney General Tom Miller said Thursday.

“Alcoholic energy drinks taste and look like popular non-alcoholic energy drinks,” Miller said, “but they contain a potentially-dangerous mixture of alcohol and high amounts of caffeine. The caffeine – and the ads – give drinkers a false belief they can function without impairment, but studies show that can lead people to unsafe decisions such as driving while drunk or sexual assault.”

Miller’s office helped lead a group of states in an investigation this year that focused on false and misleading health-related statements about the energizing effects of “Sparks” brand products, and on allegations that MillerCoors was marketing the products to an underage audience (see images below).

In June, after a similar investigation, Anheuser-Busch agreed with the attorneys general that it would stop producing alcoholic energy drinks, including “Tilt” and “Bud Extra.” As a result of the agreements with MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, nearly 85% of all alcoholic energy drinks that were available at the start of 2008 will be eliminated from the market.

MillerCoors is eliminating several “Sparks” brand products, including Sparks Original, Sparks Light, and Sparks Plus.


More background and detail:

Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, and New York issued investigative subpoenas to MillerCoors in January 2008. Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and the City of San Francisco assisted in the investigation. The 14 jurisdictions reached the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance or “AVC” agreement with MillerCoors. [Go to AVC.]

While MillerCoors denied claims made by the AGs and the City, it cooperated with the investigation and decided to reformulate Sparks-brand products without caffeine or other stimulants, and agreed not to produce any other caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future. A.G. Miller praised MillerCoors for being a responsible industry leader and for eliminating all caffeinated alcohol beverages from their product list.

In addition to providing that MillerCoors will eliminate caffeine and other stimulants from its “Sparks” brand products, the settlement addresses concerns about the marketing of “Sparks.”

MillerCoors agreed to stop using images in its marketing that imply energy or power, like the battery-themed +/- symbols on the can. MillerCoors also agreed to cease particular marketing themes that appeal to young people, eliminating advertisements that feature a bright orange-stained tongue, and not renewing its contract with William Ocean, an air guitar champion who does a back flip onto an opened can of “Sparks” at all of his shows.

MillerCoors also will immediately discontinue the “Sparks” website. The states were disturbed that MillerCoors was using images and themes that are popular to young people to convey the message that “Sparks” could “power” their nights.

The attorneys general emphasized that young people aren’t drinking just one or two of the alcoholic energy drinks – the products are intended to be consumed several times throughout a night of partying, and to be used as a mixer for other alcoholic beverages.

A 2008 study by Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien of Wake Forest University found that college students who mix alcohol and energy drinks engage in increased heavy episodic drinking and have twice as many episodes of weekly drunkenness. College students who reported consuming alcohol mixed with energy drinks also had significantly higher prevalence of alcohol-related consequences, like sexual assault and injury. [Go to O’Brien Study.(PDF format)]

The attorneys general said people must resist thinking the new alcoholic energy drinks are just like adding liquor to coffee. The drinks contain substantially more caffeine than coffee or soda and are marketed to be consumed in combination with other alcoholic beverages. The marketing message is clear, the AGs said – if you drink these products you can party longer and drink more. That is an inappropriate message targeted at young audiences, the AGs said.

The AGs said they are continuing to investigate alcoholic energy drinks manufactured by other companies. They also will be working with state and federal officials to encourage further research and regulation of alcoholic energy drinks.

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