State attorneys general from at least a dozen states are pressing Pabst Brewing Company to either change the way it’s manufacturing and marketing (as a single serving) Snoop Dogg’s “Blast by Colt 45” or else recall the product, which has only been on the market since early April.
The fruit-flavored, alcoholic energy drink is being touted as a “binge in a can.” A single can contains 23.5 ounces of the concoction and is being marketed, say officials, as a single serving when its 12 percent alcohol content is roughly equivalent to that in four or five 12-ounce beers. A smaller container is available, but the arguments and objections fueling the controversy center around the large can.
Because the drink is provided in grape, raspberry, watermelon, blueberry pomegranate, and strawberry lemonade flavors, officials assert the drinks are aimed to encourage young consumers to imbibe. Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General and chairman of the Youth Access to Alcohol and Drugs Committee for the National Association of Attorneys General, said, “Pabst has sunk to a new low by selling highly alcoholic drinks aimed at the youngest drinkers.” Pabst claims the flavors are those preferred by over-age drinkers, specifically women in their late 20s and early 30s wanting an alternative to conventional malt liquor.
Even a sliver of the flavored malt beverage market is a sizeable one. The market segment earned $967.7 million for the 52 weeks that ended March 20, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the prior year, according to The New York Times. The data does not include products sold in Wal-Mart or liquor stores; however, these drinks are primarily sold by supermarkets and convenience stores. The leading brands are Mike’s Hard Lemonade Company and Smirnoff Ice.
“We have always considered them cocktails on training wheels,” said Michael J. Scippa, public affairs director of the alcohol industry watchdog Marin Institute. “It’s a way to bridge young consumers’ fondness for juices and sodas to alcohol.” The group has launched an online petition against Blast and has previously been critical of other caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
Some of the attorneys general say having Snoop Dogg associated with the product also is designed to entice underage drinkers. Snoop is prominently featured in the advertisements for the drink. The Guam attorney general, as well as the San Francisco city attorney are also signees of the letter.
Daren Metropoulos, Pabst’s owner, told The New York Times the arguments are unfounded. “It’s not like our distributors are putting it in the soda section, and these are clearly designated as an alcoholic product.”
The calls for banning Blast echo the sentiments expressed at the creation and marketing of other so-called progressive adult beverages that combine booze and caffeine such as Four Loko. Other caffeinated or supplement-laden booze drinks that have been in the cross-hairs in recent years include Sparks, Tilt, BudExtra, and Joose.
There are only two studies that decisively link caffeinated alcohol consumption to risky behavior. As Reason points out, “[T]he FDA does not conclude that all beverages combining alcohol and caffeine are inherently unsafe. It focuses on these particular companies because they ‘seemingly target the young adult user.’” The article paints the furor over Four Loko as a “moral panic” that resulted in the ban. “The FDA itself conceded that the combination of alcohol and caffeine, a feature of many drinks that remain legal, was not the real issue.” It was the marketing to young adults “’especially vulnerable’ to ‘combined ingestion of caffeine and alcohol.’”
Observers say Pabst doesn’t seem to have learned from the Four Loko ban. Despite the controversy, “these convenience-store potables are still fighting it out for the addled minds and pumped stomachs of America’s youth.”
What are your thoughts on the proposed ban or change in marketing tactics? Should consumers be ultimately responsible for their decision to drink a large can of a caffeinated beverage, regardless of how it is marketed? Or are the marketing tactics predatory and misleading enough to warrant involvement by government? Your opinions are welcome in the comment section below!
Image by jameskm03, used under its Creative Commons license.
By Linda Dailey Paulson