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The ad says "Pour Mouth to Mouth" Spicy Mango, Hot Melons,
Spicy Lime, Hot Chocolate. Spicey Mango is a 2 oz. (shot) malt-based
beverage containing caffeine, ginseng and guarana.
Make your beer more refreshing. Add a spicy citrus kick to your drink. Caffeine Ginseng, Guarana
AGs Slam Alcoholic Energy Drinks, Marketing of
Call for Local Advocacy
The Larger Problem: Alcohol and Energy Drinks
Model Ordinances to Reduce the Supply of Alcohol to Youth Under Age 21
Spykes Labels Violate Regs, Federal Agency Says
'Spykes' Sparks Concern, Activism Over Kid-Friendly Mix of Alcohol, Energy Drinks
Teens & Underage Drinking - Video
Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
Teens & Underage Drinking - Video
AGs Slam Alcoholic Energy
Drinks, Marketing of 'Spykes'
In a May 10 letter to Anheuser-Busch chairman August Busch IV, the AGs harshly criticized the company for its marketing of alcoholic energy drinks, particularly Spykes. Noting research showing that mixing alcohol and beverages containing large doses of stimulants like caffeine could lead drinkers to underestimate their level of intoxication, the AGs wrote, "In light of this information, Anheuser-Busch's development and promotion of a variety of alcoholic energy drinks, including 'Spykes,' a flavored malt beverage that contains 12 percent alcohol by volume, as well as caffeine, guarana, and ginseng, is particularly distressing.
"Spykes exhibits all the indicia of a youth-oriented 'starter drink,' while posing the additional risks that arise from combining energy drinks with alcohol," the letter stated. The AGs noted that the product is being promoted online with free ringtone and wallpaper downloads that primarily appeal to adolescents, on a website with no meaningful barriers to youth access. The state law-enforcement officials called on Anheuser-Busch to, "at a minimum," add consumer warnings to its product packaging about the danger of mixing alcohol and energy drinks.
"In our view, the labeling for Spykes is inadequate, and the content of its advertising is irresponsible, reflecting a basic disregard for consumer safety and welfare," the letter stated, adding, "Although we find Spykes, with its fruit and chocolate flavors, high alcohol content, stimulants, and colorful, miniature packaging to be the most objectionable of Anheuser-Busch's alcoholic energy drinks, we are also disturbed by the company's production and advertising of another caffeinated malt beverage, "TILT," and a caffeinated beer, "Bud Extra."
"Given the documented health and safety risks of consuming alcohol in combination with caffeine or other stimulants, Anheuser-Busch's decision to introduce and promote these alcoholic energy drinks is extremely troubling," the letter continued. "Young people are heavy consumers of nonalcoholic energy drinks, and the manufacturers of those products explicitly target the teenage market. Promoting alcoholic beverages through the use of ingredients, packaging features, logos and marketing messages that mimic those of nonalcoholic refreshments overtly capitalizes on the youth marketing that already exists for drinks that may be legally purchased by underage consumers."
The AGs said Anheuser-Busch's promotion of these products called into question its assertion that the company is committed to preventing underage drinking and being part of the solution to fighting alcohol abuse and drunk driving.
"At a minimum, a responsible marketing plan would include a warning about the risks of mixing energy drinks with alcohol and would ensure that each product was packaged in containers large enough to display warnings legibly and to deter concealment by underage youth," the AGs wrote. "Such a plan would also employ effective age-verification methods for entry into branded Internet websites and for delivery of remote-sale purchases, and it would prevent products likely to be favored by teenagers from being sold in venues such as grocery stores and convenience stores.
"Finally, a responsible marketing plan would not direct its focus at young people who have just reached the legal drinking age, without regard for the tremendous appeal that a product's composition, packaging and advertising may also have for underage youth."
Busch Says Spykes 'Misunderstood'
In a statement responding to the AGs letter, Francine I. Katz, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of communications and consumer affairs, said that "those who criticize Spykes fundamentally misunderstand the behavior of many illegal underage drinkers. They drink for instant impact. The fact that Spykes are sold in 2-ounce bottles and have a total alcohol content equivalent to only one-third of a glass of wine makes it much less likely that illegal underage drinkers will choose Spykes as opposed to similarly colored and similarly flavored products that are 70 to 80 proof hard liquor."
"If the attorneys general believe that 50-ml bottles are a problem because their size makes them easily concealable, this standard should apply not just to malt-based products, but to hard liquor as well," said Katz. "If such a uniform standard were the rule, Anheuser-Busch would be happy to comply."
Katz also questioned why the AGs were criticizing Spykes but not caffeinated liquor products, such as Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, or fruit-flavored liquor products. "One would think that if there were going to be a double standard applied, it would favor the lower alcohol content products, not the type of hard-liquor products made by Beam Global and other hard liquor manufacturers," she said.
Katz said the "facts just don't bear out" charges that Spykes is targeted at underage drinkers, saying, "Of-age adults like these flavors."
"[T]he simple fact remains that Spykes are intended for adults 21 and older who enjoy sweet, fruit and chocolate-flavored cocktails and alcohol beverages," she said.
Typically, a letter such as that sent by the AGs to Busch on May
10 represent a shot across the bow -- often a followup to private
consultations between law-enforcement officials and corporations that
have proven fruitless. If unanswered, such letters can be followed by
legal action, although in many cases companies and the AGs will reach
some sort of settlement or agreement before the parties wind up in
Spykes Labels Violate Regs, Federal Agency
CSPI Alcohol Policies Project director George Hacker wrote to TTB on April 16 complaining that the label on the 2-ounce "Spicy Lime" flavor of Spykes -- the only bottle CSPI had seen to date -- was "seriously out of compliance" with the TTB's alcohol-labeling regulations.
"The government health warning on pocket-sized Spykes Spicy Lime labels is virtually impossible to read without a magnifying glass," wrote Hacker. "It's printed in tiny, barely 1-mm high, nearly invisible silver lettering on a non-contrasting, light lime-green background."
In an April 30 response, TTB administrator John J. Manfreda agreed. "These labels do not comply, due to these problems: the contrasting background makes the warning difficult to read on three of the eight (Spykes) products in the 2-fluid-ounce containers, and the number of characters per square inch exceeds the maximum specified in the regulations for all eight of this size container."
Manfreda said that Anheuser-Busch had agreed to stop production and shipment of Spykes and replace product labels on those bottles already with wholesalers and in warehouses. The company also has submitted applications for redesigned labels that address the problems raised by Hacker, Manfreda said.
Moreover, the brewer also is adding a new tamperproof label to Spykes bottles that includes the flavor and the warning, "Contains Alcohol."
"The illegal labeling of Spykes is actually the least of our concerns about this drink, since it is such an obvious attempt to attract underage kids to alcohol," said Hacker. "But since its labeling is in plain violation of the law, we hope that TTB orders Anheuser-Busch to pull this noncompliant product off the market."
So far, that has not happened. TTB also has not assessed any fines against Anheuser-Busch, although the regulations call for penalties of up to $10,000 per day for noncompliance. CSPI said that the company should be fined more than $3 million for the offending Spykes labels.
Anheuser-Busch has been heavily criticized by alcohol-abuse prevention groups over the release and promotion of Spykes, which is marketed as a flavored additive for beer and liquor drinks. CSPI and other prevention groups say the product appeals to underage drinkers both in its marketing and because it could make the flavor of beer and spirits more palatable to young users.
Preventionists also object to the use of easy-to-hide, pocket-size
containers, Spykes' seemingly kid-friendly flavors (Hot Melons, Spicy
Lime, Spicy Mango, and Hot Chocolate), and the fact that it mixes
alcohol with ingredients typically found in energy drinks, including
caffeine, ginseng and guarana. Anheuser-Busch denies that Spykes is
intended to lure underage drinkers, maintaining that the target
market is young adults.
'Spykes' Sparks Concern, Activism Over
Kid-Friendly Mix of Alcohol, Energy Drinks
Sold in pocket-sized bottles and containing 12 percent alcohol, Spykes is being marketed as an additive for beer and other alcoholic beverages. "Spykes is a great alternative to hard liquor shots," according to the Anheuser-Busch product website for Spykes. "A Spykes pour takes beer up a notch by adding a caffeinated rush and a sweet taste that finishes hot ... Spykes gives your beer a kick, adds flavor to your drink, and is perfect for a shot."
But critics see the product's bright packaging and fruity flavors -- Spicy Lime, Hot Chocolate, Spicy Mango, and Hot Melons -- as a blatant attempt to market the product to children. Hope Taft, former first lady of Ohio and a board member of the group Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, dashed off a March 30 letter to Anheuser-Busch president and CEO August Busch IV to protest Spykes' "appeal to those under the age of 21."
"It is colorful, flavorful and comes in small, easy-to-conceal sizes, just the qualities today's teenagers are looking for," wrote Taft, who has a long track record in youth drug prevention. "With high-school prom season fast approaching, even your marketing suggests its appeal to underage kids by suggesting 'slipping it into a tiny purse or tuxedo jacket.' The vast majority of tux jackets are worn by high school students this time of year."
"Please be responsible corporate citizens and stop selling Spykes," implored Taft.
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) chairman Arthur Dean also wrote a letter to company executives calling for Spykes to be pulled from the market. "It is hard to believe that Anheuser-Busch does not intentionally market to people under 21 when a product with the flavoring, marketing, and price point of Spykes appears on the market," wrote Dean.
Joseph Califano, chairman and president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, called Spykes "a predatory move to attract underage drinking," comparing marketing of the product to Reynolds Tobacco's attempts to sell sweet-flavored cigarettes in the U.S. -- another product slammed for appealing to kids.
"No 30- or 40-year-old beer drinker is going to add hot chocolate or some other flavor to make beer more palatable, but kids will and when they do they will get two drinks in one," said Califano.
Call for Local Advocacy
CADCA has launched a letter-writing campaign targeting Anheuser-Busch and local distributors and retailers, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also sent out an action alert urging prevention groups to contact their local Anheuser-Busch distributors and alcohol retailers to ask them to stop selling Spykes.
"Anheuser-Busch is practically begging to be investigated, subpoenaed, sued, or hauled before a Congressional committee to explain this one," said CSPI Alcohol Policies Project director George Hacker.
To that end, CSPI also wrote to members of the National Association of Attorneys General's (NAAG) Youth Access to Alcohol Task Force asking them to investigate Spykes, and is urging local health groups to do the same. Jessica Maurer, special assistant to Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe, co-chair of the NAAG task force, said that the panel is "terribly concerned about Spykes" and other products that mix alcohol and energy drinks. "This is the worst tip of the iceberg, but there's a whole iceberg under there," she said of Spykes.
The brewer's response to the flap has hardly been conciliatory. Francine I. Katz, vice president of communications and consumer affairs for Anheuser-Busch, said Spykes is being marketed to "adult consumers" who are "looking for innovative alcohol beverages to match their active lifestyles" and attributed the criticism of Spykes to "perennial, fear-mongering anti-alcohol groups whose members are in the business of spreading misinformation."
She added: "Those who are concerned about the concealability of small containers should focus on those hard-liquor beverages [such as airline "mini-bottles"] already on the market that have three to four times greater concentration of alcohol by volume than Spykes."
The Oregon Partnership, a member of CADCA, was among the first groups to raise a red flag about Spykes, which hit store shelves in January. As a results of the Partnership's advocacy, beer distributors in Oregon agreed in February to stop selling Spykes. That victory helped generate widespread media coverage of the Spykes controversy as well as additional grassroots activity.
Most recently, the town of West Bridgewater, Mass., this week passed a local ordinance banning the sale of Spykes. "We need to reach out to our community and surrounding towns ... to get a similar ban there and hope that it's a chain reaction throughout the state," West Bridgewater Selectman Jerry Lawrence told WBZ-TV on April 10.
The Larger Problem: Alcohol and Energy Drinks
Critics say that beyond the issues of Spykes' kid-friendly packaging and marketing (the product website includes free Spykes instant-messenger icons and cellphone ringtones) lies the larger problem of mixing alcohol and energy drinks.
"This is not just about giving people a sense of well-being and alertness," said CSPI's Hacker, "but making people believe that they are capable of continuing their alcohol consumption." Hacker said the ultimate goal for Anheuser-Busch is to sell more alcohol, pointing to a comment posted on the Spykes website (since removed) from a purported Spykes drinker, stating: "I can drink these all day, and be ready to go out and party all night."
Despite an ingredient list that includes the stimulants caffeine, guarana, and ginseng -- all commonly found in energy drinks -- Anheuser-Busch's Katz said that Spykes "is neither a high-alcohol content drink, nor an energy drink," adding that each serving has about the same amount of alcohol as a third of a glass of wine and about as much caffeine as in an ounce of dark chocolate.
Industry experts say that the introduction of Spykes is Anheuser-Busch's reaction to the popular practice of mixing energy drinks like Red Bull with vodka and other liquor/energy drink combinations that have eroded the market share for beer. "I'm afraid this is the first wave of what we're going to see in the future," said Judy Cushing, executive director of the Oregon Partnership. "Why can't the industry just stick with producing adult beverages? Are they getting desperate?"
Concern about the danger of mixing energy drinks and alcohol is nothing new: as far back as 2001, researcher David Pearson of Ball State University's Human Performance Laboratory was warning that mixing the stimulants in energy drinks with the depressant alcohol could lead to cardiopulmonary and cardiovascular health problems. Since then, a number of other energy drinks premixed with alcohol have hit the marketplace, including Anheuser-Busch's own Tilt, P.I.N.K. Vodka, Liquid Core, and Liquid Charge.
In the April 2006 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, Brazilian researchers reported that people who combined alcohol and Red Bull tended to overlook the extent of their alcohol impairment because the energy drink made them feel so awake.
"Although combined ingestion decreases the sensation of tiredness and sleepiness, objective measures of motor coordination showed that it cannot reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on motor coordination," said researcher Maria Lucia O. Souza-Formigoni of the Federal University of Sao Paulo. "In other words, the person is drunk but does not feel as drunk as he really is. The second important point is that many users reported using energy drinks to reduce a not-so-pleasant taste of alcoholic beverages, which could dangerously increase the amount (as well as the speed of ingestion) of alcoholic beverages."
Researchers expressed particular concern that those who mix alcohol and energy drinks could be more likely to drink and drive.
Maurer told Join Together that the NAAG Youth Access to Alcohol
Task Force has "actually been looking into the issue of energy drinks
combined with alcohol long before the recent controversy about
Spykes." The panel has found, for example, that a number of other
nations actively discourage consumers from combining energy drinks
with alcohol, including through warning labels on product packages.
The public attention and awareness generated by the introduction of
Spykes could help pave the way for future action on the broader issue
of alcohol and energy drinks, suggested Maurer.
Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective
Why is this dangerous behavior so pervasive? What can be done to prevent it? What will work and who is responsible for making sure it happens? Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsbility, a joint report by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, addresses these questions and proposes a new way to combat underage alcohol use. It explores the ways in which may different individuals and groups contribute to the problem and how they can be enlisted to prevent it.
The report says that reducing underage drinking requires a
cooperative effort from all levels of government, alcohol
manufacturers and retailers, the entertainment industry, parents and
other adults in a community. The report proposes a comprehensive
strategy to curb underage drinking, a problem that costs the nation
an estimated $53 billion annually, due in part to losses stemming
from traffic fatalities and violent crime.
National Acadamies Press
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