For Immediate Release
CSPI Sues to Stop MillerCoors' 'Sparks' Alcoholic Energy Drink
Caffeinated Booze Linked to Binge Drinking, Drunk Driving, and Assaults
WASHINGTON - The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest today filed suit
against MillerCoors Brewing Company, formerly Miller, over its
alcoholic energy drink, Sparks. The product has more alcohol than
regular beer and contains unapproved additives, including the
stimulants caffeine and guarana. The lawsuit is asking the Superior
Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors from selling the
controversial drink, which is also under scrutiny from state attorneys
Drinkers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks
are more likely to binge drink, ride with an intoxicated driver, become
injured, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of
non-caffeinated alcoholic drinks, according to a 2007 study conducted at Wake Forest University.
contain 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to regular beer,
which typically has 4 or 5 percent alcohol. Also unlike beer, Sparks'
appeal to young people is enhanced by its sweet citrusy taste, redolent
of SweeTarts candy, and the bright color of orange soda. (Sparks Light
also contains the artificial sweetener sucralose). In October,
MillerCoors plans to release Sparks Red, which will have 8 percent
alcohol by volume.
"MillerCoors is trying to hook teens and 'tweens on a
dangerous drink," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "This
company's behavior is reckless, predatory, and in the final analysis,
likely to disgust a judge or a jury."
Sparks' juvenile web site
and guerilla marketing appeal to young consumers, according to CSPI.
The web site offers a recipe for a drink called a "Lunchbox,"
consisting of half Miller beer and half Sparks, and elsewhere, the site
proposes consuming Sparks for breakfast alongside omelets. The company
also hosts give-aways of Sparks at house parties, sponsors events
unrelated to beer such as art shows, and engages in other
unconventional marketing practices, according to the Milwaukee Journal
Sentinel. CSPI's court filing notes that private gatherings such as
house parties do not have the same licensing or other safeguards as
public establishments that prevent minors from accessing alcohol.
"Mix alcohol and stimulants with a young person's sense
of invincibility and you have a recipe for disaster," said George A.
Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol policies project. "Sparks is a drink
designed to mask feelings of drunkenness and to encourage people to
keep drinking past the point at which they otherwise would have
stopped. The end result is more drunk driving, more injuries, and more
According to a 2006 study, the stimulants in these
products do not reduce alcohol's negative effects on motor skills and
reaction times but do impair people's perception of intoxication. As a
result, drinkers may engage in risky behavior, such as driving, because
they feel less drunk but in reality are too intoxicated to get behind
CSPI's lawsuit also contends that it is illegal to use
caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and taurine in alcoholic beverages. The
federal agency with primary responsibility for regulating alcoholic
beverages, the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau, says
alcoholic beverages may contain only ingredients considered General
Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, by the Food and Drug Administration. But
the FDA has given only very narrow approval for caffeine and
guarana-with no allowance for alcoholic drinks-and no approval for
ginseng in any food or beverage. Taurine is only approved for use in
chicken feed, not human food.
In February, CSPI notified Anheuser-Busch and Miller of
its intent to sue both companies over caffeinated alcoholic drinks. In
June, Anheuser-Busch entered into separate agreements with CSPI and 11
state attorneys general in which the brewer agreed to take caffeine and
other unapproved additives out of its two alcoholic energy drinks, Bud
Extra and Tilt. Anheuser-Busch paid the 11 states $200,000 to reimburse
them for the cost of the investigation and called on other brewers and
distillers not to market pre-packaged caffeinated alcoholic drinks.
That agreement with Anheuser-Busch was the first alcohol-related accomplishment for CSPI's litigation project.
Since its founding in 2005, CSPI's litigation unit has, on its own or
in cooperation with private law firms, negotiated settlements or
voluntary changes to marketing practices with Airborne, Kellogg,
Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats, and others.