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Anheuser to Pull Caffeine Drinks

 

Annys Shin

Washington Post

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 well.

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 Commission."

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 researchers found.

Public health advocates had hoped the FTC would back a 15 or 25 percent standard for the marketing of alcoholic beverages.

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 William Kovacic.

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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