The Checkout

Sparks Fly in the District

Kathy Lally

My colleague Jordan Weissmann reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington health advocacy group, filed a lawsuit yesterday in an effort to stop MillerCoors LLC. from selling Sparks, its alcoholic energy drink, in the District.
The suit alleges that Sparks contains ingredients -- caffeine, ginseng and taurine -- that have never been approved for use in alcoholic beverages, and that the government erred by allowing the the drink on the market.
The suit, filed in DC Superior Court, accuses MillerCoors of actively marketing Sparks, which contains 6 percent alcohol, to underage consumers. The CSPI says the energy boost from caffeine makes drinkers feel less inebriated than they really are, leading them into high risk behavior. They cite a Wake Forest study that found people who consumed caffeinated alcoholic drinks were more likely to binge drink, ride with a drunk driver and be sexually assaulted.
A ruling against MillerCoors might harm the company's ability to run any national ad campaigns for the drink, since it would be almost impossible to keep the ads out of Washington, said Stephen Gardner, CSPI's litigation director.
In June, the CSPI and 11 state Attornies General reached a settlement with Anheuser-Busch in which the company agreed to remove the caffeine from its own alcoholic energy drinks, Bud Extra and Tilt.
"Overall, our goal is to see this segment die the death it deserves," Gardner said.
According to MillerCoors, which said it would not comment on specific litigation, Sparks' sales make up 60 percent of the alcoholic energy drink market by volume. The drink, which comes in a bright orange can and has a Flinstones Vitamins-like flavor, sold about 405,000 barrels in 2007, up from 200,000 in 2004, according to Beer Marketer's Insight. Before it merged with Coors, the drink made up a little less than 1 percent of Miller's volume.

By Kathy Lally |  September 9, 2008; 8:11 AM ET Annys Shin , Consumer News
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