Consumer groups increase pressure on alcohol companies

Posted by Editorial on 4th July 2008

beer at the supermarket

Pressure has been mounting on caffeinated alcohol beverages as US consumer groups look to ban such products. With binge drinking a concern, it appears the focus has now spread from alcopops to caffeinated alcohol products.

Anheuser-Busch has announced that they will remove the caffeine, guarana, and ginseng from their flavored malt beverages Tilt and Bud Extra. The move comes as part of agreements reached with the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which in February threatened to file suit against the company over the drinks, and a group of 11 state Attorneys General, which has separately been investigating the company.

Miller Brewing Co., which markets caffeinated alcoholic drinks under the brand name Sparks, is involved in the settlement agreements and is increasingly likely to face litigation over the beverages, according to CSPI Litigation Director Steve Gardner. “Frankly, Miller Brewing is lurching on very thin legal ice if they continue to market these dangerous drinks,” he said. Miller have discounted the prospect of withdrawing their product as they claim to have government approval for their beverage.

Consumer groups have been concerned that the young consumers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are at greater risk of binge drinking, injury, drunk driving, or sexual assault than are drinkers of conventional alcoholic drinks, with research conducted at Wake Forest University supporting their views.

“We are pleased that Anheuser-Busch has agreed to take the caffeine and other stimulants out of its alcoholic drinks, and that it was not necessary to formally proceed with litigation,” said CSPI alcohol policies project director George Hacker. “We particularly appreciate the call that Anheuser-Busch is making to distillers and other brewers to likewise reformulate these ill-conceived products.”

The pressure on alcohol marketers and companies is likely to continue to heighten both in Australia and the rest of the world as fears about a binge drinking “epidemic” spread globally. Already, Australia and the US have increased alcopop taxes, and Scotland and England have considered the implementation of minimum prices based on alcohol content. The advertising of products is also under scrutiny with worries that current legislation allows for companies to target young people and forget about the ‘Drink Responsibly’ message.

The Rudd Government is now reportedly considering the banning of all daytime alcohol ads on free to air television and Family First Senator is strongly pushing the issue. “Alcohol ads are already restricted from running on TV until after 8.30pm. But there is a crazy ‘loophole’ in the law that exempts live sport, so alcohol ads can run at any time of the day on weekends and public holidays,” he advised. “If the Rudd Government is serious about creating a culture of responsible drinking AND it wants to prove the alcopops tax is not just a tax grab, it should also introduce alcohol warning labels to alcopops and all other alcohol products.”