Md. Settlement with MillerCoors Sees End to Alcoholic Energy Drinks

BALTIMORE (Dec. 21, 2008) - On Thursday, Dec. 18, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced an agreement with MillerCoors that will result in the nationwide discontinuance of the country’s top-selling pre-mixed alcoholic energy drink, Sparks. As part of the 14 state agreement, MillerCoors will not produce any caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future.

In early 2008, published research about the dangers of these products and concerns about the way the products were being marketed led Attorneys General to initiate an investigation into the content and marketing of MillerCoors Sparks brand products, which include Sparks Original, Sparks Light, Sparks Plus, and an unreleased higher alcohol product called Sparks Red. In January, Gansler’s office issued an investigative subpoena to MillerCoors pursuant under Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act. The investigation 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.

“I am gravely concerned about pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks,” said Attorney General Gansler, Co-Chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Youth Access to Alcohol Committee. “These amped-up-alcopops that look like non-alcohol energy drinks are popular with young people who wrongly believe that the caffeine will offset the intoxicating effects of the alcohol. These beliefs are fueled by unconscionable aggressive marketing campaigns that target our youth and promise endless nights of fun and enhanced abilities.”

The settlement announced today specifically addresses concerns about the marketing of Sparks. Although MillerCoors denied acting improperly, it agreed to stop using images that imply power (like the battery-themed +/- symbols on the can) and that appeal to underage youth to market the product. MillerCoors also agreed not to renew its contract with William Ocean, a MillerCoors-sponsored air guitarist who back flips onto an opened can of Sparks at his shows, and to immediately discontinue the Sparks website. MillerCoors also agreed to reformulate Sparks brand products without caffeine or other stimulants and agreed not to produce any other caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future.

“Alcohol mixed with high amounts of caffeine is a recipe for disaster, particularly in the hands of young people,” said Attorney General Gansler. “Caffeine gives drinkers the false belief that they can function normally, making them more likely to make unsafe decisions which can result in serious harm to themselves and others.”

A recently published study 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.

In May, Attorney General Gansler announced that Anheuser-Busch would stop producing alcoholic energy drinks, including Tilt and Bud Extra. With the elimination of Sparks from the market, nearly 85% of all alcoholic energy drinks that were available at the start of this year will be eliminated from the market.

Source: Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler

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