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Lights Out on "Sparks" Alcoholic Energy Drink

December 19, 2008 01:53 PM
by Isabel Cowles
MillerCoors will remove stimulants from its controversial energy drink that contains a blend of alcohol and caffeine after complaints by attorneys general nationwide.

States Take the "Sparks" Out

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In response to complaints filed by dozens of state attorneys general, MillerCoors LLC has agreed to stop producing its colorful combination of alcohol and caffeine, also known as “Sparks.”

The drink caused concern among state authorities nationwide for both its marketing and ingredients. Critics noted that the drink’s colorful packaging and apparent parallel to popular energy drinks like Red Bull appeals to teens and college-age drinkers specifically.

Additionally, authorities were concerned that the mix of alcohol and caffeine could mask signs of drunkenness, encouraging young consumers to drink in excess.

MillerCoors has agreed to remove stimulants including caffeine, taurine, guarana and ginseng, from the drinks, the Wall Street Journal reports.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was happy with the agreement, asserting, “Drinks like Sparks encourage the polar opposite of responsible drinking habits,” noting the risk associated with combining alcohol (a depressant) with stimulants like caffeine. “Today’s agreement will ensure that from here on out, these drinks are kept off New York shelves and away from New York consumers,” Cuomo announced.

Tom Long, president of MillerCoors said in a prepared statement, "We are always willing to listen to societal partners and consider changes to our business to reinforce our commitment to alcohol responsibility.” However, Long noted that the company disagrees with the states' "inaccurate allegations about the marketing and sale of Sparks."

In addition to changing the ingredients in Sparks, MillerCoors will also modify some of its marketing, which includes removing elements of the Web site that allegedly target younger consumers.

Background Information: States just say “no” to energy-spiked beer

By September, twenty-five states and interest groups had asked MillerCoors to cancel the release of an alcohol-infused energy drink, Sparks Red.

According to MillerCoors’ official Sparks Web site, current versions of Sparks contain 6–7 percent alcohol by volume, as compared to Miller High Life and Coors beers, which contain less than 5 percent alcohol by volume. State attorneys general claimed that the new beverage would contain nearly 8 percent alcohol by volume.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed suit against MillerCoors Brewing Company over the production of Sparks, noting that “Sparks’ appeal to young people is enhanced by its sweet citrusy taste, redolent of SweeTarts candy,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “MillerCoors is trying to hook teens and ’tweens on a dangerous drink.”

According to an alcohol study performed at Wake Forest School of Medicine, college students who mix alcohol and energy drinks have twice as many episodes of weekly drunkenness.
In addition, such students “are at increased risk for alcohol-related consequences, even after adjusting for the amount of alcohol consumed,” the study explained.

“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,” said George A. Hacker, director of CSPI’s alcohol policies project. “The end result is more drunk driving, more injuries, and more sexual assaults.”

MillerCoors published a statement in response to allegations, arguing that the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has approved all recipes and labels for the various types of Sparks, which include Sparks Light, Sparks Plus and Sparks Red. “We have and we will continue to ensure that the labeling, marketing and product formulations of all our brands meet all applicable federal regulations and that our brands are marketed responsibly to legal drinking age adults,” the company said.

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