Caffeinated Beers Draw Officials' Ire

Promotion of beverages that mix alcohol and caffeine is hazardous, 30 attorneys general contend.

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State attorneys general have asked the federal government to crack down on beers that contain caffeine, saying the alcoholic energy drinks pose serious health and safety risks.

Thirty attorneys general called for an investigation of promotional claims that the drinks provide energy and power, while explicitly appealing to teenagers and young adults, who equate partying with staying up late. "Who's up for staying out all night?" says a promotion for Bud Extra, one of the drinks cited by the attorneys general in their letter to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

New research shows that combining caffeine and alcohol is a bad idea: The caffeine improves a person's response time, without correcting the errors in behavior caused by the alcohol. Thus a person drinking caffeine and alcohol may be less aware that his or her ability to drive or perform other tasks is impaired.

Alcohol is the biggest problem drug among young people in the United States. According to the Surgeon General, about 5,000 people under age 21 die each year from alcohol-related injuries.

"We're really concerned about all these products," says Jessica Maurer, a special assistant to Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe, lead signer of the letter. "We think they are potentially dangerous, particularly at a time when every state is seeing incredible binge drinking rates among our youth. Products that promise the ability to keep you up all night so you can party longer [send] absolutely the wrong message."

Companies that sell the beers, including Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company, note that the alcohol and tobacco bureau has reviewed and approved the products' labels. Anheuser-Busch's vice president for communications and consumer affairs, Francine Katz, says her company's Bud Extra "is simply a malt beverage that contains caffeine, and it is clearly marked as containing alcohol. In fact, this product has less caffeine that a 12-oz. Starbucks coffee." The company has removed the phrase "You can sleep when you're 30," a line that drew the ire of the attorneys general, from the Bud Extra website, she says. Both Anheuser-Busch and Miller question why the AG's didn't pick on hard liquors that contain caffeine.