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Published: Saturday, 8/18/2007

Addiction in disguise

IN THE face of growing concern that energy drinks containing alcohol are packaged in a way that, purposely or not, deceives parents of under-age drinkers, it only makes sense that the manufacturers of these drinks change the packaging so that the alcoholic contents are clearly evident.

Generations of fatigued college students cramming for finals and long-haul truckers on tight schedules have used caffeine, often in concentrated form, to stay awake and alert. Inevitably someone came up with the idea of producing a high-caffeine beverage and marketing it as an "energy drink." In the past several years, these drinks have exploded into a $3 billion-per-year industry, marketed mostly to teens and young adults.

Just as inevitably, young people soon began combining energy drinks and alcohol, reasoning in the unique way of youth that by drinking both they could then be buzzed and alert at the same time. And nobody had to poke the alcoholic beverage industry with a stick for it to realize there was profit to be made combining this craze in a single can.

Leave aside the health concerns inherent in this schizophrenic mix, such as how combining strong stimulants and depressants can result in cardiopulmonary or cardiovascular failure. Ignore also the suggestion by some that because drinks such as Tilt, Joose, and Sparks contain large doses of caffeine, which is mildly addictive, as well as alcohol, the addictive properties of which are well known, they could act as a "bridge" to more addictive behavior.

Adults, after all, are allowed to do whatever stupid-but-legal things they desire. But the beverage containers themselves are creating a problem because parents do not immediately recognize them as beer cans in disguise, resulting in teens drinking right in front of mom and dad with the oldsters being none the wiser.

Danielle Stratton, head of a concerned local group called Teen Institute Leaders Team, recently wrote Anheuser-Busch Inc., the maker of Tilt, suggesting it change the drink's packaging to "alert teens, as well as parents, that your product is an alcoholic beverage."

The beer maker says it is "adamantly opposed to underage drinking," so it should be a simple thing to use the prestige and power of its nearly 50 percent share of the American beer market to lead the rest of the industry in repackaging these products in such a way that anyone - even a parent - would know at a glance what it is.

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