Anheuser-Busch was marketing its caffeinated drinks to minors and misrepresenting the drinks' health benefits, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said. He was among 11 attorneys general who reached a settlement with the nation's largest brewer.
St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch said it will reformulate its popular "Tilt" and "Bud Extra" brands to remove the stimulants they currently contain.
The company has long been dogged by accusations that its marketing for the caffeinated alcoholic drinks targets those under the legal drinking age. The company strongly disputed that allegation.
"The settlement agreement between Anheuser-Busch and 11 states attorneys general contains no findings that Anheuser-Busch engaged in unlawful behavior or advertised to youth, and it points to no documents stating that we did so," said Francine Katz, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of communications.
Katz said Tilt and Bud Extra were mostly promoted on-premise, with no TV and little print or radio advertising. Their Web sites had limited features and few unique visitors, she said.
"No advertiser who was actually trying to target underage people would have used such a marketing plan," Katz said.
On The Early Show Friday, Dr. Mary Claire O'Brien, an emergency room physician at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center whose research has shown the dangers of mixing caffeine and alcohol told co-anchor Chris Wragge, "I commend Anheuser-Busch (for agreeing to the settlement) and I really congratulate the state attorneys general on what is a homerun for American youth. We're thrilled."
O'Brien said, "We did research ... that establishes that alcoholic energy drinks, both the pre-mixed variety and the mix-your-own that are popular at bars, are associated with an increase in high-risk drinking, meaning more weekly drunkenness, more binge drinking and, even more importantly, associated with very serious alcohol-related consequences, like riding with a drunk driver, being sick enough to require medical attention, being sexually assaulted, perpetuating a sexual assault. So -- some really serious things."
The energy drinks were investigated because they posed a stronger risk for binge drinking, said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
"These energy alcohol drinks lead to wide-awake drunks," Blumenthal said during a conference call with other attorneys general in the case. "They create a false sense of both security and capacity. They energize the intoxicated."
O'Brien concurred, explaining that, "Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. I have likened it to stepping on the gas pedal and the brake at the same time. Alcohol is a depressant. It slows people down, it impairs their judgment. But the caffeine impairs the ability of the person drinking to tell that they are intoxicated. So, you don't feel drunk, but you're absolutely as drunk as you were before you had it. Basically, you are an awake drunk."
What about brewers who've yet to go along with pulling alcoholic energy drinks from the market?
"I hope they do the right thing, too," O'Brien said. "I know they want to be responsible and I hope they do the right thing, too."
In February, the attorneys general subpoenaed documents from Anheuser-Busch related to its marketing efforts for the alcoholic energy drinks. The investigation was sparked by concerns that the drinks were targeted to teenagers and young adults already drawn to highly caffeinated drinks like Red Bull.
Documents reviewed in the case appeared to validate that concern, said Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe. Although Rowe would not comment on any specific document obtained from Anheuser-Busch, he said there is ample evidence the company's marketing targeted youths.
Anheuser-Busch also agreed to pay $200,000 to the states that investigated the brewer's practices. In addition to New York, Connecticut and Maine, those states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, and Ohio.
Cuomo said the states continue to investigate other companies selling alcoholic energy drinks.