Two of the biggest drinks groups in the US are being sued over drinks which, it is alleged, contain ingredients that could be unsafe.
The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest has served brewers Anheuser-Busch and Miller with notices its intent to sue them over a new generation of caffeinated alcoholic drinks - Bud Extra and Tilt from A-B and Sparks from Miller.
According to the CSPI, the brands "have more alcohol than beer and contain stimulant additives that are not officially approved for use in alcoholic drinks, including caffeine, taurine, ginseng, or guarana".
The CSPI alleges that the two brewers have no scientific studies that can support the safety of the drinks, combining as they do both alcohol and stimulants. But it does put forward its own research which indicates "that young consumers of [these products] are more likely to binge drink, become injured, ride with an intoxicated driver, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of conventional alcoholic drinks".
The organization also claims that the drinks groups are acting irresponsibly by targeting the drinks at "young, and often underage, drinkers".
"This is just the latest and one of the more sinister attempts by alcohol producers to prey on a new generation of future problem drinkers," said George A. Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol policies project.
"This is an industry that wants its consumers young and it wants them hooked."
According to CSPI, the companies are also being investigated by 16 state attorneys general, who recently subpoenaed internal company documents pertaining to the products' sales and marketing.
Last August, a task force of 30 state attorneys general warned the companies that "adding caffeine and other stimulants to alcohol may increase the risk to young consumers because those additives tend to reduce the perception of intoxication and make greater quantities of alcohol palatable".
In a letter to John Manfreda, head of the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the lawyers said that "most alcoholic energy drinks are categorized as malt beverages even though their alcohol by volume is significantly greater than that of beer".
"This classification renders alcoholic energy drinks more readily available to young people, because malt beverages can be purchased in many more places, and at significantly lower prices, than distilled spirits."
There was also concern that the addition of stimulants in some of the products was also misleading consumers.
"They do not mention the potentially severe, adverse consequences of mixing caffeine or other stimulants and alcohol. We believe that alcoholic energy drinks constitute a serious health and safety risk for America's youth."
At the time, Anheuser Busch's Francine Katz said that its products had been unfairly targeted.
"It is not accurate to call Bud Extra an 'energy beer'," she said. "In fact, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which reviewed and approved the labeling of this product, prohibit such references."
"This product is simply a malt beverage that contains caffeine, and it is clearly marked as containing alcohol."
Anheuser-Busch and Miller were not immediately available for comment on the CSPI's legal action.
According to CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner, "the cans are virtually indistinguishable from several non-alcoholic energy drinks that are heavily marketed to young people".
"It's a recipe for disaster and the companies should be held accountable."
Miller's Sparks comes in varieties with either six per cent or seven per cent alcohol by volume, while Anheuser-Busch's Bud Extra has six per cent alcohol and its Tilt comes in 6.6 per cent and eight percent varieties.
The CSPI claims that the marketing of both brands "are designed to give drinkers the impression that they can consume more alcohol without feeling as intoxicated" because of the counter-effect of the stimulants.
"The risk of serious and potentially deadly consequences is significantly higher for students who mix energy drinks and alcohol," said Dr. Mary Claire O'Brien, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in a CPSI communication.
"Energy drinks mask the symptoms of drunkenness - but not the drunkenness itself. Energy drinks and alcohol don't mix."
CSPI's letters to Anheuser-Busch and Miller invite the companies to negotiate a settlement without resorting to litigation - the organisation wants them to withdraw the brands and pay any profits from them into a charitable trust.