Alcoholic Energy Drinks -- a Threat to Kids?

"The bottles are easy to hide, and they don't look like alcoholic beverages," he says. "It is just perfect for the teenage market."

Web Site Hosts Roiling Debate

Upon visiting Spykes' promotional Web site at Spykeme.com, surfers are immediately faced with a page stating that they must be 21 years of age to look at its content.

For underage Web users who tell the truth about their age, entering their date of birth and clicking the link takes them to a page promoting Anheuser-Busch's theme parks.

However, for those who are of legal age -- or at least say they are -- the link leads to a vivid home page, complete with club music and descriptions of the Spykes' range of products.

This virtual creation perhaps represents the bulk of direct-to-consumer advertising that the company has put together in the marketing of Spykes. And this alone, critics say, is part of the problem.

"This is even more evidence of what their marketing push is," Mosher says. "We know that teens are heavy users of the Internet, and companies that want to market to teens use the Internet and other forms of viral marketing.

"The fact that they are not using more traditional advertising venues really raises the issue: If adults are their primary market, how come they are only using the tactics that are popular with teens? This does not pass the smell test."

Foster agrees. "Clearly there are many, many young people online -- proportionately more than older people. I don't think that's an accident."

But in many ways the flashy Web site designed to promote Spykes has also become yet another forum for the debate over the beverages' right to exist.

A user who goes by the handle "Mike C" writes on the drinks' discussion boards that the beverages are "a blatant and obvious attempt at aiming [sic] product appeal and advertising at teens."

On the other side of the argument is "e2eky1e," who has this to say:

"You people need to get real. Teens have been drinking and will continue drinking until the end of time. … I highly doubt that kids that weren't already drinking in the first place are thinking, 'Oh shoot, I better give up my sobriety because of a little pink bottle.'"

The Question of Regulation

Foster says she believes tighter regulations are needed to keep such offerings out of underage hands.

"There is a point at which public health needs to trump profit," she says. "The federal government needs to regulate this kind of marketing as it relates to young people."

However, such a move would no doubt be hindered by the fact that no specific research yet exists that implicates Spykes and products like it in encouraging underage drinking.

"We don't have the data yet, of course," Mosher says. "It always takes us a few years to get the scientific data to counter the PR push that they always do."

But even in the absence of concrete data, Mosher calls the Anheuser-Busch move to put these drinks on the market "highly irresponsible."

"The first level of responsibility rests with the companies themselves," he says. "Their responsibility is to keep stuff off of the market that is particularly attractive to young people.

"If the companies refuse to act responsibly, then we need legislation."

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