They're going after the kids. First the cigarette-makers and now the alcohol brewers. It's all about addiction -- if kids get hooked, they'll be your customers forever and keep coming back for more. For the drink manufacturers, one addictive drug isn't enough. Now they're combining alcohol and caffeine. And they are marketing it to high school kids.
There is some good news. The "alcopop" beverage Sparks, made by the giant brewer MillerCoors which has cornered the majority of the alcopop market, will no longer be sold.
A coalition of Attorneys General from 13 U.S. states has been investigating MillerCoors for selling and marketing its caffeinated-alcohol drinks, particularly to youth. Then last week the brewer made a deal with the AG's to stop selling Sparks. Last July the same AGs reached a similar agreement with Anheuser-Busch. Both manufacturers were often accused of marketing to high schoolers.
"ALCOPOPS" -- A DANGEROUS COMBINATION
"Drinks like Sparks encourage the polar opposite of responsible drinking habits," said New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, as reported by Politics on the Hudson. "Besides being aggressively marketed to a younger crowd, they are fundamentally dangerous and put drinkers of all ages at risk."
How do they market to the underage drinkers? The AG's say the brewers use "false and misleading health-related statements" about the energizing effects of Sparks and use themes that appeal to the younger crowd. For example, MillerCoors has agreed to no longer use air-guitar champion William Ocean, who opens his shows by doing a back flip on an opened can of Sparks.
Critics also claim that the alcopops raise potential health risks by masking feelings of drunkenness. "They're popular with young people who wrongly believe that the caffeine will counteract the intoxicating effects of the alcohol," said Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe, reported by the Wall Street Journal.
MillerCoors agreed to remove caffeine, taurine, guaranta and ginseng from Sparks, a malt beveragethat comes in tall 24-ounce cans that sell for around $2.50.
FEDERAL REGULATORS AND TEACHERS UNAWARE
Interestingly, in the eyes of the federal regulators, Sparks and similar beverages were okay and approved them --not once but twice -- overcoming criticism by the way they were formulated, labeled, marketed and sold. Fortunately, state attorneys general disagreed and investigated and filed lawsuits against the brewers. Most the AG's mentioned that high school teachers didn't know that the students drinking Sparks in their classes were not just drinking another energy drink, writes Kurt Soller, in Newsweek article "Death of a Cult Beverage."
"Scientists have also argued that mixing a downer (alcohol) with an upper (caffeine) can send your heart rate on a roller coaster ride (all while your mind rattles with the question 'How drunk am I?' )" writes Soller.
Stay on your toes and keep an eye out. Soon greedy manufacturers will figure out a way to profit by combining nicotine, alcohol and caffeine -- maybe a patch -- for grade schoolers?
TO READ MORE ABOUT CAFFEINE, GO TO: CAFFEINE: THE WORLD'S MOST POPULAR DRUG.