SAN RAFAEL, Calif., Dec. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — In a major victory for public health and safety, 13 State Attorneys General, the City Attorney of San Francisco, and MillerCoors Brewing Company announced today that the company will be reformulating its Sparks Alcoholic Energy Drink to remove the caffeine and all other stimulants. MillerCoors also agreed to refrain from making any AEDs in the future and cease using marketing practices that tout Sparks’ supposed energizing effects, link it to late night partying and binge drinking, and promote youth experimentation.
The landmark decision was applauded by the California Coalition on Alcopops and Youth, which praised California Attorney General Brown, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the other State Attorneys General for investigating these dangerous products and commended MillerCoors for taking responsible action. It follows a similar agreement reached by State Attorneys General with Anheuser Busch Company.
The Coalition and other public health and safety groups raised alarms regarding Alcoholic Energy Drinks (AEDs) because of the risks they pose to the public, particularly young people. The caffeine in the drinks masks the intoxicating effects of the alcohol without reducing alcohol’s actual effect on judgment and motor skills. Increased binge drinking, drinking and driving, and other risky behavior are likely outcomes of this drug mix. The marketing messages promote these very behaviors.
Sparks, the leading AED on the market, is among the worst offenders, using various marketing slogans and images — such as rocket ships and lightning bolts — to promote its supposed energizing effects. Young people are particularly attracted to the product, a sugary mixture appealing to youth taste packaged in cans that are indistinguishable from energy drinks popular with teens.
The California Coalition on Alcopops and Youth has had as a top agenda removing AEDs from the marketplace because of the risks they pose to young people and the deceptive marketing practices that have been employed. Judy Walsh-Jackson, chair of the Coalition hailed the decision as a major victory for California’s youth: “We commend both the Attorneys General and MillerCoors Brewing Company for reaching this landmark agreement, which will protect California’s young people from harm and will set a new standard for corporate responsibility. We call on all other alcohol producers and retailers to follow MillerCoors lead and discontinue mixing alcohol with stimulants.”
AEDs hit the market after Red Bull energy drink became a popular mixer with vodka in bars as a means to promote binge drinking while counteracting alcohol’s depressant effects. Alcohol producers ignored the alarms raised by public health officials and researchers and instead saw this new practice as an opportunity to enhance their bottom line. Sparks and other AED products are contained in packaging that is indistinguishable from non-alcoholic beverages.
The California Youth Council conducted its own investigation of AEDs. Its findings were disturbing. “These drinks are popular among our high school peers. The marketing makes them very attractive, and no one is aware of the risks involved,” said Kellie Goodwin, 17, a member of the group.
“Parents, young people, teachers, law enforcement, even liquor store clerks couldn’t tell the difference between non-alcoholic beverages and AED’s,” said Dr. Jim Cooler, administrator of California Friday Night Live Partnership. “These products are so dangerous to teens. We greatly appreciate Attorney General Brown’s leadership in this matter. He and his staff were instrumental in conducting the investigation and negotiating the settlement with MillerCoors. We hope other manufacturers will follow suit for the health and well-being of California’s teens.”
“Sparks has been the poster child for irresponsible marketing,” said Michele Simon, research and policy director for Marin Institute and co-author with Jim Mosher of the 2007 report, Alcohol, Energy Drinks, and Youth: A Dangerous Mix. “We are pleased that MillerCoors has finally seen the error of its ways, and look forward to the demise of the entire category of caffeinated alcohol.”