Miller, Anheuser-Busch May Be Illegally Targeting Teens with Energy Drinks

Monday , November 19, 2007

By Lis Wiehl



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If you read last week’s Lis on Law, you know that adding alcohol to energy drinks can be dangerous. Well, go figure, alcoholic beverage manufacturers have now cut out the middle man. Companies like Miller, Labbatt, Anheuiser-Busch and Molson all have created their own caffeinated alcoholic beverages in response to the trend of mixing alcohol and caffeine.

We’ve already established that original energy drinks are marketed for a younger audience. In fact, we know that about 65 percent of energy drink consumers are under the age of 35. But, what about the marketing for these new energy/alcohol drinks? Are the beverage manufacturers targeting the younger audience? And, if that’s the case, are these companies promoting alcohol to people not yet of a legal drinking age? In other words, are alcohol companies illegally targeting our young, vulnerable and UNDERAGE minors by choosing to sell these products?

I believe the energy drink manufacturers target young people for two main reasons. The first is that teenagers are probably more susceptible to the claims that the energy drink companies make. And, this younger demographic is often out all night partying, as compared to more responsible adults who value sleep and a good night’s rest. (We wish, right?) In other words these exhausted youngsters are more likely to purchase these beverages than a 40-something who made sure she was in bed by 11 p.m. Thus as a result, most energy drinks are developed for and targeted at the younger generation. And they are targeted to appeal to extreme sports enthusiasts and a young hip hop crowd. The advertising campaigns appeal to these groups by naming beverages Crunk or GoFast!

The packaging of these products also demonstrates their appeal to a young market. The most appalling demonstration was by Redux, whose drink “Cocaine” was recently pulled from shelves. The beverage was advertised as “speed in a can.” Their logo even resembled white powder. Now, if this doesn’t highlight a reference to drugs as well as its appeal to young and impressionable consumers, I don’t know what does.

So I ask, if it’s crystal clear that these energy drinks are undoubtedly being marketed for underage customers, doesn’t it seem wrong (even illegal) for alcohol companies, who have vowed not to market any product for underage persons, to market alcoholic energy drinks? This is exactly what the attorney generals from 28 states, including California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Washington, New York and Ohio, are claiming to be the case.

These attorney generals collectively wrote a letter recently to John Manafreda at the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau demanding that the federal government examine not only the energy drink ingredients, but their marketing tactics as well. The attorney generals allege that this investigation is necessary because they fear that new alcoholic energy drinks are being aimed at vulnerable young audiences, either consciously or subliminally.

These attorney generals claim that marketing alcoholic energy drinks, knowing that energy drink popularity concentrates among underagers, is fraudulent because ultimately these manufacturers are surreptitiously aiming these products at a market that cannot legally consume alcohol. And this, they claim, is unconscionable.

The attorney generals have also requested an investigation into alcoholic energy drinks classification as a malt beverage. Malt beverages generally have a lower percentage of alcoholic content contained in the drink. Classification in many states enables cheaper and broader sales. This in turn leads to wider availability to young people than distilled spirits or hard liquors, which are typically harder to get. I mean, its no big secret that underagers are much more likely to hit up a gas station for some beer rather than risk using a fake ID at a liquor store, where cashiers are more likely to scrutinize identification.

I’m not sure of the solution here. Perhaps reclassifying these drinks is necessary to shrink availability to inappropriate consumers? Or, merely educating our kids on the perils of the advertising market? I’m not sure, but one thing seems pretty clear to me: alcohol and high energy drinks don’t mix … for anyone.

Before I go, a quick reminder as a fellow parent, who not only doesn’t want her children jittering around like jumping beans, but who also wants them to be healthy. Remember that even without the alcohol, caffeine in large doses isn’t healthy for children. Childrens’ brains and bones are still developing until around age 21 and high caffeine consumption has been linked to stunted growth, pregnancy problems, osteoporosis, insomnia and other ailments. Now I’m not suggesting we impose an age minimum for caffeine but keep it in mind the next time you think about purchasing a Red Bull for your 13 year old if you want ‘em to grow to be that supermodel, rocket scientist, or the basketball player you know they can be!

Click over to read Lis' column, "Lis and the Single Girl."

Today, Lis answers this viewer question:

“I’m tired of filling out countless forms and complying with background checks to get a job. I’m insulted by the criminal background checks. Isn’t seeing me in person enough?” Read more


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.