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Distiller Sued Over Marketing

A class action suit has been filed in Washington, D.C., Superior Court charging several brewers, distillers and the Beer Institute with "a long-running sophisticated and deceptive scheme to market to children and underage consumers."

The suit, filed by powerhouse lawyer David Boies, attempts to "disgorge the unlawful profits these companies have made through the illegal sale and use of their products and to stop the abusive marketing practices that contributed to those illegal sales."

According to the American Advertising Federation, Beer Institute President Jeff Becker called the suit "without merit," saying the Federal Trade Commission has concluded the industry is marketing responsibly and "made a special point of acknowledging the industry for its alcohol awareness and education efforts."

Becker was referring in part to an FTC study released Sept. 9 finding "no evidence" that advertisers of flavored malt beverages-so-called alcopops or malternatives-target underage consumers and said alcohol marketers have significantly improved self-regulation, implementing practices suggested in a 1999 FTC report.

A National Academy of Sciences report released shortly after the FTC’s was somewhat less sanguine. It proposed a number of media-targeted steps to help curb underage drinking, including a government-funded ad campaign. The report also proposed funding to help the Department of Health and Human Services monitor underage exposure to alcohol ads and "report periodically to Congress and the public."

The NAS also called on the alcohol industry to fund a nonprofit foundation "with the sole mission of preventing and reducing underage drinking."