FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 12, 2010

SCHUMER CALLS ON FTC TO INVESTIGATE COMPANIES THAT MAY BE PROMOTING UNDERAGE DRINKING; CAFFEINATED ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, SUCH AS FOUR LOKO AND JOOSE, APPEAR TO BE MARKETING TO MINORS; PROMOTION AND DESIGN MAKE THEM LOOK LIKE AN ENERGY DRINK


Drinks Look Nearly Identical to Non-Alcoholic Energy Drinks; Style Makes Distinguishing Difficult for Parents, Could be Encouraging Underage Drinking

Drinks Such As Four Loko and Joose Contain Up to Twice the Amount of Alcohol Than a Bottle of Beer and High Amounts of Caffeine- Mixing Alcohol and Caffeine Can Be Extremely Dangerous for Teens

Schumer: Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages Appear To Be Marketed to Teens and Are Misleading to Adults and Business Owners

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the FTC to immediately launch an investigation into certain alcoholic beverages which seem to be explicitly designed to attract underage drinkers. In a letter to Jon Leibowitz, the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Schumer, Vice Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, called for an investigation into companies that are making drinks that appear to be marketed to underage teens, befuddling parents and law enforcement by designing alcoholic drink labels and containers like non-alcoholic energy drinks. Schumer pointed out that popular drinks such as Four Loko and Joose, look nearly indistinguishable compared to energy drinks, yet contain up to 12% alcohol per volume - two to three times the amount of alcohol in one can of beer. Schumer said that the FTC should investigate marketing practices and take enforcement actions if warranted.

 “Our parents and law enforcement are doing everything they can to keep alcohol out of the hands of teens, but it becomes a difficult task when beverage makers create and market a product that seems like an everyday energy drink,” Schumer said. “The marketing of drinks Four Loko, Joose, and others like  them lead one to believe that manufacturers are trying to mislead legal-age adults while actively courting underage drinkers. This is dishonest, irresponsible, and wrong. It’s time for the FTC to immediately turn their attention to these products and address this problem once and for all.”

Caffeinated alcoholic malt beverages such as Four Loko and Joose appear to be created and advertised with teenagers in mind.  Twenty-four ounce cans of Four Loko and Joose are designed to appear hip with flashy colors and funky designs that could appeal to younger consumers. With 12% alcohol per volume, these drinks contain more than twice the amount of alcohol than a bottle of beer or a glass of wine.  However, the labeling and packaging of these beverages renders them nearly indistinguishable from ordinary energy drinks.  Some stores even stock them directly next to other energy drinks causing further confusion for legal and illegal consumers.  Four Loko comes in seven different flavors and a vibrantly colored aluminum can with, in their own words, “bright, pop off the shelves, graphics.”  Schumer says the marketing and product placement of Four Loko, Joose and other products like them is highly disturbing. 

A recent study found that young and underage drinkers who combine alcohol with caffeine, which occurs with increasing frequency given the prevalence of beverages like Four Loko and Joose, are more likely to suffer injury, be the victim of sexual assault, drive while intoxicated, and require medical attention than drinkers who consume caffeine-free beverages.

In 2008, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and MillerCoors LLC reformulated caffeinated alcoholic beverages under pressure from several states and regulatory bodies, but smaller companies like the manufacturers of Four Loko and Joose managed to remain unnoticed. In his letter, Schumer requested a full review of the marketing of caffeinated alcoholic beverages to determine whether enforcement actions are warranted, and to ensure sufficient investigative and enforcement resources are focused on curbing alcohol marketing to underage consumers.

Schumer is urging the FTC to give these companies all due attention and launch an investigation. 

A copy of Schumer’s letter can be found below.

 

The Honorable Jon Leibowitz

Chairman, Federal Trade Commission

600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20580

 

Dear Chairman Leibowitz,

 

I write today to express my grave concern over the marketing of certain alcoholic beverages which seem explicitly designed to attract underage drinkers.  It is my understanding that caffeine-infused, flavored malt beverages are becoming increasingly popular among teenagers.  The style and promotion of these products is extremely troubling.  Frankly, it looks to me as if manufacturers are trying to mislead adults and business owners who sell these products, while at the same time actively courting underage drinkers.  This type of marketing is, at minimum, grossly irresponsible, and I ask that the FTC review the marketing of these products to determine whether manufacturers are engaging in deceptive practices or are otherwise in violation of any of the laws enforced by the Commission.  

 

I commend the FTC for its 2003 investigation into marketing of flavored malt beverages and the impact on underage drinkers.  However, since that time, manufacturers have continued to push new products in new ways that arguably cross the line by targeting younger consumers.  For example, caffeinated alcoholic drinks such as Four Loko and Joose contain twice the amount of alcohol as a bottle of beer or a glass of wine, yet appear to be advertised specifically with teenagers in mind.  Further, the labeling and packaging of many of these types of beverages renders them nearly indistinguishable from ordinary energy drinks.  Moreover, the drinks come in a range of innocuous-sounding flavors in brightly-colored, graphics-covered cans seemingly designed to lure young consumers.  Some stores even stock them directly next to non-alcohol energy drinks causing further confusion for both legal and underage consumers.   

 

The marketing and product placement of caffeinated alcohol products raises serious concerns about manufacturers’ targeting of underage drinkers and should be investigated.  The FTC has commendably taken enforcement actions in the past against companies whose advertising was deceptive and in violation of federal law, and I believe the Commission also should review the marketing of caffeinated alcoholic beverages to determine whether any new enforcement actions are warranted.   

 

Beverage companies have a responsibility not only to their customers, but to the greater public as well.  Recent marketing practices and campaigns with respect to caffeinated alcoholic beverages raise serious concerns about whether beverage companies are living up to their responsibilities.  Any practices that target alcohol advertising to underage drinkers must be stopped. 

 

In its 2008 report on alcohol marketing and youth, the Commission reviewed whether alcohol advertising was targeting those under the legal drinking age.  The study found high levels of compliance with the alcohol industry’s self-regulation standards for advertising placement.  Nevertheless, given the industry’s history of marketing to youth, the Commission announced a new monitoring system to help the agency assess the industry’s efforts to reduce the likelihood of alcohol advertising targeting underage drinkers.  I respectfully ask that the Commission post the data collected under the monitoring system on its website and update the data on an ongoing basis.  I also would ask that the FTC update its study on alcohol marketing and youth to include an investigation of the latest marketing practices and products offered by the alcohol industry. 

 

The FTC plays a crucial role in helping to reduce underage drinking by cracking down on marketing that may encourage it.  As Vice Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, I respectfully ask that you review the marketing of caffeinated alcoholic beverages to determine whether any enforcement actions are warranted, and that you continue to ensure sufficient investigative and enforcement resources are focused on curbing alcohol marketing to underage consumers.  We must all continue to work diligently to curb illegal alcohol consumption.  Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.  I look forward to continuing to work with you on this issue. 

 Sincerely,

 

 

 Charles E. Schumer

 

United States Senator

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