Monday, June 30, 2008

Death Knell for Alcoholic Energy Drinks?

On Thursday, Anheuser-Busch announced that it has stopped manufacturing its alcoholic energy drinks BudExtra and Tilt, and is reformulating them to remove the stimulants caffeine and guarana. Actually, the announcement came from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), whose members are the states that directly control beverage alcohol sales within their borders by being the state's sole distributor of beverage alcohol products, and in some cases its sole retailer as well.

There are 18 control states, plus two control counties in Maryland. The other 32 states are known as license states, because they control beverage alcohol distribution and sales through the licensing of producers, distributors and retailers.

Busch agreed to stop making the products in conjunction with a deal with attorneys general from eleven of the control states, who alleged among other things that the products are targeted at underage drinkers, using the same dubious assumptions discussed in some of my previous posts on the subject. (Click on the "alcopops" label, below, to bring them all up.)

Here is what a spokesperson for Busch said about the decision: "We have determined that competing in the prepackaged caffeinated alcohol beverage sector may detract from our reputation as the global industry leader in promoting responsibility among adults who drink and discouraging underage drinking."

If ever there was a sentence that needed a comma before the "and" it is that one. Whew!

America's other big brewer, SAB/Miller, says it will continue to make and market the products, but I suspect they will fold too before too much longer.

Even if these products continue to be made and marketed by smaller brewers, those smaller companies probably won't have the necessary marketing muscle, and they certainly won't make as inviting a target for the anti-alcohol forces.

While I continue to feel that the marketing-to-youth charge is bogus, this is a common sense decision, as expressed by one of the attorneys general: "Alcohol mixed with high amounts of caffeine is a recipe for disaster, particularly in the hands of young people," said Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe, Chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Youth Access to Alcohol Committee. "The caffeine gives drinkers the subjective belief that they can function normally. This false belief results in the potential for increased serious harm. This agreement is a monumental win for our nation's young people who are lured by marketing into believing these products are safe."

In addition to that strong argument against them is the fact that I can't think of any argument for them. What are alcoholic energy drinks good for anyway? As an experienced consciousness-alterer, I can confirm that no good has ever come from mixing depressants with stimulants.

So while I don't agree with the attack on the marketing, it will be better for everyone if these products just go away.

Why does it matter that the marketing charges are bogus? Look at the second half of Rowe's last sentence. The supposed beneficiaries of this are "young people who are lured by marketing into believing these products are safe." Huh? I challenge Rowe to show me where any marketing claim is made regarding safety. That statement is ridiculous on its face.

Since marketing beverage alcohol to underage persons is illegal, the marketing charge alleges wrongdoing on the part of marketers. Naturally, that becomes the most important part of the story, even though it is the weakest part of the argument. The movement (assuming its stated motives are its true ones) would be better served by dropping the bogus arguments and highlighting the good ones. Too bad they won't.

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