AP: Attorneys general urge federal crackdown on energy drink claims

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

"Beverage companies are unconscionably and deliberately targeting young drinkers in touting their claims about the stimulating properties of alcoholic energy drinks," Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said in a written statement.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called health-related claims about the drinks outlandish and outrageous.

"Combining alcohol with caffeine hardly seems healthy — and that false claim is what we seek to halt," 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 for Bud Extra; and Charge Beverages of Portland for its Liquid Charge and Liquid Core drinks.

Anheuser-Busch vice president Francine Katz said the federal government already approved the Bud Extra labeling.

"This product is simply a malt beverage that contains caffeine, and is clearly marked as containing alcohol," she said. "In fact, Bud Extra has less caffeine than a 12-oz Starbucks coffee."

Katz said the attorneys general should focus on restricting youth access to alcohol, particularly hard liquor products that can have 10 times the alcohol by volume as malt beverages.

Julian Green, a spokesman for Miller Brewing Co., said Sparks was created only for customers who are 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.

Calls were placed to Charge Beverages.

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. The malt beverage classification, in many states, enables cheaper and broader sale of these drinks, making them more readily available to young people than distilled spirits.

Blumenthal said several advertisements make misleading health-related claims that warrant investigation and possible enforcement action by TTB.

Sparks and Sparks Plus designs canned drinks and the cases in which they are packaged to look like batteries to imply they are energy drinks, Blumenthal said. The slogan is "powered by Sparks," he said.

Liquid Charge’s Web site displays a video of a nuclear power plant’s cooling tower collapsing and being replaced by a can of Liquid Charge. The ad calls the drink a "new power source for the 21st century" the ad says.

Besides Rhode Island, Oregon and Connecticut, states involved in the action are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming