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04.2008

Massachusetts Beverage Business

archivedOnBeerReport

Caught Up In "Caffeine-Gate"?

DOCUMENTS HAVE BEEN DEMANDED by attorneys general from several states for documents from Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Miller Brewing Co. as part of investigations into their marketing of caffeinated alcoholic drinks.

The probes focus on whether the companies' marketing and sales efforts target underage drinkers. The companies haven't been charged with any wrongdoing.

Drinks that combine alcohol with caffeine have become increasingly popular with young drinkers, including those under the legal drinking age. State attorneys general claim that beverage makers are irresponsibly taking advantage of this popularity by selling the drinks with misleading claims that they help users stay up late for partying.

Anheuser-Busch, the largest US beer maker by sales, confirmed it received subpoenas from attorneys general in New York, Maine, Maryland, Arizona and Iowa about its sales and marketing of Tilt and Bud Extra, both malt-based beverages that contain caffeine. The company said it is cooperating with the subpoenas.

"It is important to realize that the attorneys general are investigating products whose formulation and labeling already have been approved by the federal authorities, as well as by those states" requiring state approvals, Francine Katz, Anheuser's vice president for communications and consumer affairs, said in a statement. "Caffeinated alcohol beverages are nothing new," she added, noting that adults long have combined drinks such as rum and Coca-Cola.

Julian Green, a spokesman for Miller, said it received requests for documents from attorneys general in New York, Maine and Illinois regarding its marketing of the Sparks brand, one of the top-selling caffeinated alcoholic drinks. The US unit of SABMiller PLC of London will fully cooperate with the investigation, Mr. Green said. "The alcohol content of our Sparks products is clearly and prominently labeled. We responsibly market our products to legal drinking-age consumers."

The requests mark the latest moves by state attorneys general to crack down on the makers of drinks that contain alcohol and caffeine. In August, attorneys general from roughly 3O states sent a letter to the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, asking officials to examine what they claimed to be misleading marketing of the drinks. The Tax and Trade Bureau took no action after the request by the attorneys general and told them it had reviewed and approved the labeling of the drinks.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo “is concerned about what happens when these companies combine alcohol and caffeine and then market those drinks to young people," said Benjamin Lawsky, special assistant to Mr. Cuomo. Mr. Lawsky confirmed that Mr. Cuomo's office requested documents from Anheuser and Miller but declined to elaborate on the investigation.

If attorneys general find evidence of wrongdoing, they could file civil lawsuits charging the companies with violating laws barring unfair and deceptive trade practices. A number of consumer-advocacy groups have criticized makers of caffeinated alcohol drinks, saying they fail to make clear to consumers that combining alcohol and caffeine could have negative consequences. Industry executives are awaiting a report from the US Federal Trade Commission, which regulates advertising practices, that is expected to address concerns about the marketing of alcoholic beverages containing caffeine.      -WALL STREET JOURNAL


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