Caffeinated alcohol-craze stimulates industry attacks

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alcoholic beverage Us

Criticisms of alcoholic energy drinks in the US could also have
effect Europe's ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage market, a health
expert has warned.

The threat of increased political pressure on beverage makers could lead to further regulatory sanctions for the alcohol industry, which has already had to adopt more stringent social responsibility initiatives.

Anders Ulstein, board member of European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), told BeverageDaily.com that while criticism of RTD alcohol products is nothing new, the latest attacks could be yet another millstone around the industry's neck.

Though accepting that US policy developments rarely has an influence on European legislation, Ulstein said the potential effects on policies of global bodies could be far more significant.

"[The] main impact [of the criticism] is to the extent it changes the perspectives of US federal authorities, which is very important at World Health Organisation level, where the US is presently seen as a supporter of the industry," he said.

Ulstein's comments come after the chief legal officers of 29 US states had hit out at a number of leading global beverage groups for the way they are selling alcohol-based energy drink products in the country.

In a letter addressed to John Manfreda, head of the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the group stressed their concern at the availability of caffeinated alcohol beverages on the market. "

Most alcoholic energy drinks are categorized as malt beverages even though their alcohol by volume is significantly greater than that of beer," the letter read.

"This classification renders alcoholic energy drinks more readily available to young people, because malt beverages can be purchased in many more places, and at significantly lower prices, than distilled spirits."

There was also concern that the addition of stimulants like caffeine in some of the products was also misleading consumers, according to the authors of the letter.

"They do not mention the potentially severe, adverse consequences of mixing caffeine or other stimulants and alcohol," they continued.

"We believe that alcoholic energy drinks constitute a serious health and safety risk for America's youth."

According to the TTB's own findings compiled in 2003, alcohol was believed to be the number one drug problems amongst young Americans, being linked to increased rates of crashes, homicides and suicides.

The legal officer's criticisms have been linked in particular to products from a number of leading breweries including Anheuser Busch, which produces the Bud Extra caffeinated beer brand.

There had been particular concern that its advertising practices were aimed could appeal to younger under-age drinkers, with slogans such as : "You can sleep when you're 30."

However, the brewer has hit out at the criticism saying its products and promotional practices are fully compliant with government requirements.

Anheuser Busch's Francine Katz, said that its product had been unfairly targeted. "

It is not accurate to call Bud Extra an 'energy beer'," she stated.

"In fact, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which reviewed and approved the labeling of this product, prohibit such references."

Katz also hit out at criticisms of the company's advertising practices saying the letter claims were out of date.

'Interestingly, the phrase 'You can sleep when you're 30,' referenced in the Attorneys General's letter, does not appear on our website - and has not been on our website for some time," she added.

Anheuser Busch nonetheless said it had move to address any issues related to the criticism.

"To ensure our intentions are not misinterpreted, we have reviewed all remaining statements on our website," Katz stated.

"

This product is simply a malt beverage that contains caffeine, and it is clearly marked as containing alcohol."

Katz claimed that suggestions that RTD products were more responsible for under-age drinking and alcohol related accidents was also contradictory to US government findings.

"Two weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study indicating most youth consume hard liquor, not beer products, which may have as much as 10 times the alcohol by volume as malt beverages," she stated.

Ulstein also agreed that focusing on a single type of alcohol product was not the based method to reforms the alcohol industry, though was still concerned at the rise of products like the alcoholic energy drinks.

"Alcoholic energy drinks are not the only culprit, and I would not like to focus too much on particular categories, but it does I think fuel the binge drinking phenomenon," he said.

Ulstein expressed his particular concern at the image that beverages like alcoholic energy drinks have amongst underage drinkers.

"There may even be particular health risks related to these products, but my concern is the way it stimulates an entrenching of the alco-pops culture among young people," he added.

Even without the latest pressure from the US authorities, the damage to the reputation of RTD products and their manufacturers may already be done, according to Ulstein.

"

I think the pressure is already generated from processes at EU level where nutrition issues, health claims and alcohol policy etc is rising rapidly on the agenda, rather than from the US ."

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