- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2007

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — State attorneys general are asking federal regulators to crack down on the makers of energy drinks containing alcohol and caffeine, accusing them of misleading advertising for a product that can pose serious health and safety risks.

In a recent letter to John Manfreda, administrator of the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, attorneys general from 28 states, Guam and the District of Columbia warn that aggressive marketing of alcoholic energy drinks targets young people who are buying energy drinks without alcohol.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said yesterday that beverage companies are making outlandish and outrageous health-related claims about the drinks.

“Combining alcohol with caffeine hardly seems healthy — and that false claim is what we seek to halt,” Mr. Blumenthal said.

“Nonalcoholic energy drinks are very popular with today’s youth,” Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers said.

“Beverage companies are unconscionably appealing to young drinkers with claims about the stimulating properties of alcoholic energy drinks.”

The attorneys general singled out three manufacturers: Miller Brewing Co. for Sparks and Sparks Plus; Anheuser-Busch Cos. for Bud Extra; and Charge Beverages for its Liquid Charge and Liquid Core drinks.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler said that along with asking for a federal investigation into the companies’ advertising strategies, the attorneys general are generating interest in the practice of mixing energy drinks and alcohol.

“A benefit of this letter may be to start the process of more studies done on the effects of these energy drinks mixed with alcohol,” he said.

Melissa Merz, a spokeswoman for Washington, D.C., Attorney General Linda Singer, said local bars and restaurants are not a target.

“We are asking the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to investigate the marketing and advertising techniques these companies use. This is not aimed at Washington, D.C., bars,” Ms. Merz said.

Mr. Blumenthal said some ads contain misleading health-related claims regarding the products’ effects.

For example, he said, Sparks and Sparks Plus advertises canned drinks and the cases in which they are packaged to look like batteries to imply they are energy drinks. The slogan is “Powered by Sparks,” he said.

Julian Green, a spokesman for Miller, said Sparks was only for customers of legal drinking age.

“There is no nonalcoholic version of Sparks. We work closely with the Trade and Tax Bureau to ensure that all of our products meet federal regulatory requirements,” he said.

Anheuser-Busch Vice President Francine Katz said the federal government approved the Bud Extra labeling.

“This product is simply a malt beverage that contains caffeine, and is clearly marked as containing alcohol,” she said.

The attorneys general also requested a federal investigation into the makeup of alcoholic energy drinks and other flavored malt beverages to determine whether, based on the percentage of distilled spirits contained in the drinks, they are properly classified as malt beverages under federal law. In many states, the malt beverage classification enables cheaper and broader sale of the drinks, making them more readily available to young people than distilled spirits.

c Staff writer Gregory Lopes contributed to this report in Washington.

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