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CHICAGO – December 22, 2008 -- MillerCoors LLC agreed to stop producing and selling caffeinated alcohol beverages, as part of a settlement with more than a dozen state attorneys general, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The beer giant came under fire from the states and several consumer-advocacy groups for allegedly marketing its the Sparks brand to appeal to underage consumers, the report stated. Critics also argued the drinks raised health risks by masking feelings of drunkenness.
"Attorneys general from around the country are gravely concerned about premixed alcoholic energy drinks," Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe said in prepared remarks cited by the Journal. "They're popular with young people who wrongly believe that the caffeine will counteract the intoxicating effects of the alcohol."
As a result, MillerCoors agreed to remove caffeine, taurine, guarana and ginseng from Sparks, which comes in 24-ounce cans that sell for about $2.50. MillerCoors agreed to end certain marketing strategies such as content on the Sparks Web site that the attorneys general said "looks like it was created by a college freshman." The company also will eliminate images that imply energy, such as the battery-themed symbols on its can, according to the report.
The company will stop making Sparks in its current form by Jan. 10, and will pay $550,000 to the states and the city of San Francisco to cover the cost of their investigations.
The agreement is not the first time that the Sparks brand came under scrutiny by several attorneys general. In late September, attorneys general from 25 states sent a letter to MillerCoors urging it to abandon plans for a new version of its Sparks alcoholic energy drink, CSNews Online reported at the time.
Called Sparks Red, the new version reportedly had an 8 percent alcohol content, up from 7 and 6 percent for other Sparks versions.
MillerCoors said the most recent agreement contained no findings that the company engaged in unlawful behavior or marketed the drink to people under the legal drinking age.
"We are always willing to listen to societal partners and consider changes to our business to reinforce our commitment to alcohol responsibility," Tom Long, president of MillerCoors, said in a statement cited by the Journal. He added the company disagrees with the states' "inaccurate allegations about the marketing and sale of Sparks."