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US: Alcohol industry hit by 'underage' lawsuit

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A lawsuit has been filed against many of the big names in the US alcohol industry accusing them of targeting underage drinkers. The lawsuit, filed last week in the District of Columbia Superior Court, says it seeks to recover "unlawful profits" these companies made by allegedly marketing and advertising their products to underage consumers.

The litigation, on behalf of a US plastic surgeon, Ayman Hakki, has been filed by the law firm Strauss and Boies. The named defendants are Diageo, Coors, Heineken, Brown-Forman, Bacardi, Kobrand, Mike's Hard Lemonade and industry trade group The Beer Institute. Notable absences from the list include Anheuser-Busch, SABMiller, Allied Domecq, Constellation Brands and Fortune Brands.

According to the suit, the named firms are accused of engaging in a "long-running, sophisticated and deceptive scheme to market alcoholic beverages to children and other underage consumers," and seeks 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 these illegal sales."

In a statement issued yesterday, the president of the Beer Institute, Jeff Becker, dismissed the litigation. ""This lawsuit is without merit," he said. Becker continues: "In the last five years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is the federal agency charged with overseeing advertising practices in the United States, has conducted several rigorous reviews of alcohol beverage advertising and underage drinking. It has consistently concluded that the beer industry markets its products in a responsible manner."

Brown-Forman has said in a statement that it will "contest vigorously this case. While the FTC had some suggestions (in 1999 and 2003) about how manufacturers could improve their marketing practices, each time it concluded that beverage alcohol manufacturers do not market to underage consumers and that the industry's system of self-regulation is effective."


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