Beer giant Anheuser-Busch has agreed to stop producing caffeinated alcoholic beverages after a successful push by 11 state attorneys general and a Wake Forest University study that links the beverages to heavier drinking by college students.

The attorneys general were concerned that aggressive marketing campaigns had created a false impression that the caffeine in the drinks would counteract the intoxicating effect of the alcohol.

A study conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center found that college students who consume energy drinks along with alcohol are more likely to drink more, get hurt, ride with a drunken driver, and commit or suffer acts of sexual assault.

The attorneys general were particularly concerned with prepackaged, caffeinated alcoholic beverages and the marketing of those drinks.

"They drink more, thinking that the stimulants will offset the effects of alcohol, and they do not," said Steve Rowe, the attorney general of Maine and the chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General Youth Access to Alcohol Committee.

"Whether these are premixed or whether you're mixing energy drinks with alcohol, it's a problem, and it's very dangerous," Rowe said.

The settlement, announced this week, stemmed from efforts to stop the production of two energy-alcohol drinks, Tilt and Bud Extra, both made by Anheuser-Busch.

The company did not admit that the drinks were marketed to youth. But it did agree to stop producing alcoholic energy drinks and to reformulate Tilt and Bud Extra to remove its two key stimulants, caffeine and guarana.

"Although Bud Extra and Tilt met all regulatory requirements, had much less caffeine than a Starbucks coffee, and had received all necessary federal and state-agency approvals, we are reformulating these products in response to the AGs' concerns," Francine Katz, the vice president of communications and consumer affairs for Anheuser-Busch, said in a news release.

Rowe said that the attorneys general were satisfied with the company's decision to discontinue producing alcoholic energy drinks.

"The states got exactly what we were hoping to get," he said.

Attorneys general are continuing to investigate other companies that make similar products, he said.

Dr. Mary Claire O'Brien, the lead researcher of the Wake Forest study, said that many attorneys general had contacted her about her study, a Web-based survey of 4,271 students from 10 universities in North Carolina. The results of the study were initially released in November.

O'Brien said she hopes that the settlement will spur the federal Food and Drug Administration to start regulating alcoholic energy drinks.

Anheuser-Busch contends that its marketing strategy for Tilt and Bud Extra emphasized on-site promotions at licensed retailers, and not TV, print or radio ads more likely to reach people under the legal drinking age.

"We know that adults will continue to drink caffeinated cocktails like rum and Coke, coffee martinis, and Red Bull and vodka," the company said.

"Nevertheless, 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," it said.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service