Brewer Enters Into Settlement Agreements with CSPI, State AGs

The move comes as part of agreements reached with the nonprofit 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 not a party to the settlement agreements and is increasingly likely to face litigation over the beverages. 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, according to research conducted at Wake Forest University.

“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 A. Hacker. “We particularly appreciate the call that Anheuser-Busch is making to distillers and other brewers to likewise reformulate these ill-conceived products.”

Anheuser-Busch will also take down the web site for Bud Extra while it removes the stimulants from the products, and will replace the Tilt website altogether with a new address once the reformulation is complete. CSPI had raised a number of concerns with some of the marketing statements on the sites which the group said were designed to appeal to young people, or to give the impression that one could drink more of these particular beverages without becoming intoxicated.

Those youth-oriented appeals remain in abundance on the web site of Miller’s Sparks web site. The site, which sometimes displays text on school-notebook-like lined paper, offers a recipe for a drink called a “Lunchbox” which consists of half Miller beer and half Sparks. A juvenile video on the web site proposes consuming Sparks for breakfast, alongside omelets; elsewhere coupons offer “free high-fives” with purchase of Sparks. CSPI says that such carefully calibrated appeals to very young people are irresponsible, especially considering the research that suggests the Sparks formulation is risky in the first place. (In addition to the stimulants, Sparks contains more alcohol than typical beers, six or seven percent.)

CSPI’s litigation director, Steve Gardner, credited the Attorneys General for their investigation into the products.

“Not for the first time, state Attorneys General have filled a gaping void left by disinterested federal officials, who should have cracked down on these particular products long ago,” said Gardner. “Frankly, Miller Brewing is lurching on very thin legal ice if they continue to market these dangerous drinks.”

CSPI has previously negotiated settlements or voluntary changes in marketing practices by KelloggFrito-LayPinnacle FoodsQuaker Oats, and others. This is the first alcohol-related initiative of CSPI’s litigation unit.