Sparks, an energy drink made by MillerCoors, is an alcoholic energy drink that combines beer and caffeine into a drink with 6 percent alcohol by volume.
MillerCoors recently came under fire by several state attorneys general because of what they say are the adverse health effects caused by drinking alcohol together with caffeine. The attorneys also expressed concerns about MillerCoors’ marketing of the product, claiming it was targeted towards a young and potentially underage crowd.
MillerCoors ultimately came to an agreement with several of the state attorneys to redevelop Sparks so that it does not contain caffeine or any other stimulant ingredient.
“With this agreement, we’re shutting down 90 percent of the market in caffeine-spiked alcoholic beverages,” said California Attorney General Edmund Brown in a written statement. “The growing and widespread use of caffeine mixed with alcohol can distort judgment, weaken inhibitions and encourage risky behavior, especially in young people.”
Brown’s office says drinks like Sparks are particularly risky.
“Because of the effects of the alcohol combined with the caffeine you don’t realize just how inebriated you are,” said Abraham Arredondo, spokesperson with Attorney General Brown’s office.
MillerCoors’ marketing of their product also became a point of controversy among state officials.
“[The advertisements] were very colorful … and they were directed or marketed towards youth,” Arredondo said. “Any beverage like Sparks that is already made in this form, with alcohol and caffeine in it, is something that is of concern.”
While MillerCoors has agreed to amend the ingredients in Sparks, they disagree with accusations that they have marketed their product towards underage consumers.
“While we have listened closely to the AGs and respect their position, we strongly disagree with their inaccurate allegations about the marketing and sale of Sparks,” said Tom Long, president and chief commercial officer of MillerCoors in a press release. “The Sparks brand has been responsibly marketed only to legal drinking age consumers.”
Sparks was a popular drink among college students and while they may be of legal drinking age, the effects of the drink are still dangerous, said Elizabeth Applegate, director of Sports Nutrition and Nutrition 10 professor at UC Davis.
“That product contained a variety of different stimulants including caffeine, guarana and ginseng,” she said.
These ingredients, when combined with alcohol, can cause immediate bodily harm, Applegate said. Drinking Sparks can cause students to believe that they are more sober than they really are.
“[When people drink alcohol together with caffeine] their central nervous system is being stimulated, but their judgment is being impaired by the alcohol,” Applegate said.
This combination can cause people to make what they believe to be sober decisions, when in reality they are under the influence of alcohol, she said.
“You might have a heightened awareness and perception,” Applegate added. “[For example], you might believe you are fine to drive.”
Applegate noted that mixing hard liquor with energy drinks may continue to be a common practice.
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