Alcoholic "Energy Drinks" Draw Government Ire
> 8/22/2007 9:52:39 AM

It has become a common sight in bars across America: one friend turns to another—beer in hand—and says, "I'm fading. Definitely time for a lift." With that he sidles up to the bar and orders a Red Bull and vodka, a combination that has become the drink of choice for many in the late-night bar scene. When combined with alcohol, highly caffeinated and citrus-like Red Bull forms a drink that intoxicates even as it uplifts; a downer and an upper in one glass.

This combination has been so popular that many established alcohol producers have taken to marketing their own varities of "energy drinks" mixed with alcohol. Thus Miller Brewing's Sparks and Budweiser's Bud Extra, to name just two of the more common brands, have begun to appear in beverage aisles, at bars and even at sporting events. For a time this burgeoning market flew under the radar, but over the last several months producers have come under a great deal of scrutiny for their marketing practices and claims. Now, both state and federal officials have begun to move on a plan to bring increased regulatation and scrutiny to this dangerous market. Companies involved say they've followed the letter of the law, but it appears that this may be a case where too much attention has come at the detriment of those hoping to move a product.

Much of the legal turmoil surrounds the perceived marketing of the products toward younger drinkers. The drinks' makers have closely aligned these new beverages with other energy drinks, thus hoping to capitalize on an ever expanding market. Legally however, this puts them in a difficult spot. Often the ads make vague claims about increasing energy and stamina, words that seem only subtly coded to entice drinkers to purchase in hopes of extending their wild night. While, as they say, none of the advertising has explicitly broken the law, state and federal attorneys are not pleased and appear ready to play hardball.

Study has borne out many of the worst fears of opponents to these new drinks. A team of university researchers in Italy recently concluded that alcoholic energy drinks masked many symptoms of intoxication without actually reducing blood alcohol content—a dangerous recipe that promotes continued drinking and thus greater intoxication. They also concluded that these energy drinks could lead to drunk driving, accidents and even a greater chance of alcohol dependence.

These products do not explicitly violate any legal statutes, but they do create an air of impropriety. Much as the ill-advised and now defunct Anheuser-Busch product Spykes drew immense criticism then disappeared, these energy drinks may begin to fade away under scrutiny. Ultimately, the market will rule on these products. Meanwhile, however, federal and state government officials appear ready to do everything in their power to make sure that these beverages aren't being used to indoctrinate under-age drinkers or promote unhealthy and potentially deadly behaviors.

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