to Pull Caffeine Drinks
June 27, 2008
Anheuser-Busch agreed yesterday to pull caffeinated
alcoholic drinks off the market in a deal with a group
of state attorneys general that came as public health
advocates criticized the Federal Trade Commission for
failing to properly regulate alcohol advertising.
The FTC said in a report yesterday that tighter
voluntary limits on marketing were unnecessary because
the industry was complying with self-imposed guidelines
that limit print, television and radio advertising to
audiences in which no more than 30 percent are under the
legal drinking age.
The agency evaluated how well the industry was complying
with marketing guidelines. It found that more than 92
percent of the alcohol ads placed in the first half of
2006 met the 30 percent standard and more than 85
percent of the ads' audience were 21 and older. The FTC
recommended that the industry apply the 30 percent
standard to advertising online and at public events as
The liquor industry hailed the report as validation of
its efforts, which began in 2003.
"The FTC has stated clearly that the spirits industry
has done an excellent job in ensuring that its
advertising and marketing is directed to adults,"
Distilled Spirits Council President Peter H. Cressy said
in a statement.
But state attorneys general and public health advocates
say people younger than 21 are still being attracted by
the beverage makers' marketing.
"The Federal Trade Commission had an opportunity to
protect children from the ever-growing barrage of
positive alcohol messages children receive every day,"
Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe said in a statement.
"I am saddened that the Commission failed to take action
to reduce youth over-exposure to alcohol marketing."
One area that has drawn criticism from state attorneys
general is alcoholic beverage makers' marketing of
flavored malt beverages, also referred to as "alcopops."
They say those products are targeted to people under 21.
In February, a group that included Maryland's Douglas F.
Gansler launched an investigation into Anheuser-Busch's
marketing of two brands of caffeinated alcoholic drinks,
Tilt and Bud Extra.
New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo said yesterday
that the company would stop selling alcoholic energy
drinks in the United States and pay a $200,000 fine for
the cost of the investigation and public programs.
However, similar products made by other companies remain
on the market.
"This agreement keeps these dangerous products off our
shelves and makes it clear that targeting underage
consumers with advertisements for alcohol will not be
tolerated," Cuomo said in a statement.
David Jernigan, executive director of the Center on
Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University,
said the action by Anheuser-Busch showed that state
attorneys general were "out ahead of the Federal Trade
Although teen drinking rates have declined over the
years, public health experts say they are too high. In
2007, about 16 percent of eighth-graders, 33 percent of
10th-graders and 44 percent of 12th-graders reported
drinking in the past 30 days, University of Michigan
Public health advocates had hoped the FTC would back a
15 or 25 percent standard for the marketing of alcoholic
Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University School
of Public Health, said the FTC's position is misguided
because 29 percent of a publication's readers could
equal hundreds of thousands of underage youths. Under
the 70 percent standard, "the only magazine thrown out
of the mix is Highlights for Children," he said.
The FTC report and recommendations had the support of
three of the four commissioners, including Chairman
Pamela Jones Harbour disagreed with the commission's
decision not to change the 30 percent standard to 25
percent. "The alcohol industry must shoulder some
responsibility for reducing youth exposure to alcohol
advertising," she said in a statement.
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