US brewing giants Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company face legal action over their marketing of alcoholic drinks combined with stimulants such as ginseng and guarana.
The Washington DC-based campaign group Center for Science in the Public Interest said it had served both with notices of intent to sue over the use of these ingredients, which it claimed were "not officially approved for use in alcoholic drinks."
At the centre of the row are Anheuser-Busch's Bud Extra beer and Tilt alcoholic malt drink — which both contain caffeine, ginseng and guarana — and Miller's Sparks, an alcoholic malt drink containing caffeine, ginseng and taurine.
The CSPI said there were no studies available to show consuming these stimulants with alcohol was safe. But it claimed new research carried out at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, indicated young consumers of what CSPI called "alcospeed" drinks were more likely to binge drink, become injured, ride with an intoxicated driver, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of conventional alcoholic drinks.
The group said it was seeking a permanent injunction "prohibiting the companies from combining stimulants with alcohol and disgorgement of the companies' profits from Bud Extra, Tilt and Sparks into a cy pres charitable fund."
"This is just the latest and one of the more sinister attempts by alcohol producers to prey on a new generation of future problem drinkers," said George A. Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol policies project. "This is an industry that wants its consumers young and it wants them hooked. And alcospeed contains two addictive ingredients in one sunny container, and several other stimulants that are not even approved for use."
Letters from the CSPI to Anheuser-Busch and Miller invite the companies to negotiate a settlement without resorting to litigation.
But Francine Katz, vice president, communications and consumer affairs at Anheuser-Busch, said the CSPI's claims were "truly alarmist."
"Caffeinated alcohol beverages are nothing new," she said. "Responsible adults drink cocktails like rum and Coke, Irish coffee, and Red Bull and vodka — not to mention the everyday practice of many adults who may have wine with dinner and coffee with dessert. The formulation and labelling for these products have been approved by federal authorities and the products are sold lawfully in all states where they are available. If these activists believe that caffeinated alcohol beverages should not be sold, they should persuade the relevant regulatory authorities to outlaw them entirely. But so long as the beverage category itself is lawful, Anheuser-Busch may properly compete within it. We will vigorously defend our legal right to do so."
Miller was unavailable for comment.