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States urge MillerCoors to pull energy drink

Twenty-five states asked beverage maker MillerCoors LLC on Wednesday to abandon plans for a new caffeine-infused alcoholic energy drink.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Twenty-five states asked beverage maker MillerCoors LLC on Wednesday to abandon plans for a new caffeine-infused alcoholic energy drink.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement that the Sparks Red drink is a "recipe for disaster" because adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages reduces drinkers' sense of intoxication.

Blumenthal, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the other attorneys general say young drinkers are especially vulnerable because of their limited judgment and risky behaviors in driving and other activities. They urged MillerCoors to abandon plans for the product and said they would consider other steps — hinting at a potential lawsuit — if necessary.

MillerCoors spokesman Julian Green said the company still plans to release the drink on Oct. 1. He said the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, has approved all formulas and labeling for Sparks.

"We will continue to work with the TTB to insure that marketing, labeling and formulation continues to meet all guidelines," he said.

Attorneys general and advocacy groups have long been targeting MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller's U.S. unit and Molson Coors Brewing Co., and the nation's largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., in connection with the making and marketing of such drinks. They say these drinks are targeting teenagers and young drinkers who are already drawn to highly caffeinated drinks like Red Bull.

Last week the Center for Science in the Public Interest said it sued MillerCoors to stop the brewer from selling Sparks, saying it's going after teenagers with the drink.

On Wednesday, the latest group, which also includes California, Ohio, Illinois and Vermont, sent MillerCoors Chief Executive Leo Kiely a letter asking the brewer to stop its plans for Sparks Red.

"MillerCoors' decision to introduce Sparks Red defies increasing undeniable evidence from medical and public health professionals about the dangers of mixing alcohol with stimulants found in energy drinks," the letter said.

In announcing its lawsuit last week, the CSPI cited a 2007 study that found that drinkers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are more likely to binge drink and ride with an intoxicated driver, among other dangers.

The 25 attorneys general said the new drink will contain as much as 8 percent alcohol by volume, and noted that was higher than other alcoholic energy drinks. According to MillerCoors' Web site, current versions of Sparks have between 6 percent and 7 percent alcohol by volume. By comparison, MillerCoors' beers Miller High Life and Coors contain just under 5 percent alcohol by volume, according to the site.

The CSPI's lawsuit asks the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors from selling the drink. It said it is illegal to use caffeine, guarana, ginseng and taurine in alcoholic beverages. CSPI said the Food and Drug Administration has given "only very narrow approval" for caffeine and guarana — with no allowance for alcoholic drinks — and no approval for ginseng in any food or beverage. Taurine, which is often found in energy drinks, is a derivative of an amino acid. It wasn't immediately clear Wednesday whether Sparks Red contains those ingredients.

St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch said in June it would reformulate its brands "Tilt" and "Bud Extra" to remove the stimulants they contain as part of a settlement with 11 attorneys general.

In February the attorneys general subpoenaed documents from Anheuser-Busch related to its marketing efforts for the alcoholic energy drinks. Anheuser-Busch also agreed to pay $200,000 to the states that investigated its practices.

Anheuser-Busch strongly disputed the allegation that its marketing for the caffeinated alcoholic drinks targets those under the legal drinking age.