$4 BILLION LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST BEER GIANTS

Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller Charged With Advertising to Minors

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles yesterday against the world's two biggest brewers accuses the beer makers of advertising to minors and seeks $4 billion in disgorgement of profit.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against Anheuser-Busch Co. and SABMiller, takes advantage of two California laws. One bans advertising intended to influence underage drinking, and the other allows individuals as well as the state's attorney general to sue for violations of state consumer protection laws on behalf of the state.

Anheuser-Busch makes the best-selling

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Budweiser and Bud Light brands, among others, while Miller bottles Miller, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Lite and Miller High Life.

Sued tobacco companies
Aside from the $4 billion in profit, the suit seeks an injunction barring any further efforts to reach an underage audience. The lawsuit was filed by Steve Berman, a class action lawyer from Seattle who successfully sued tobacco makers in 13 states by charging, in part, that they targeted youth.

Mr. Berman today said he filed the suit because of "a bunch" of recent studies that examined the relationship between teenage beer consumption and advertising, and that Anheuser-Busch and Miller are "inflating their profits" through underage drinkers.

The suit charges the two brewers are marketing malt alternatives, which the suit calls "alcopops," to underage drinkers; advertising disproportionately in magazines reaching youths; saturating youth-targeted radio with ads; promoting events at colleges; and distributing toys and products "as part of their coordinated attempt to hook minors."

Promotional products
The suit cites a litany of promotional wares: toy trucks, airplanes, piggy banks and kazoos, along with a frog cup that says "Budweiser" on it, t-shirts, Budweiser-branded playing cards with illustrations of talking frogs, drinking glasses with cartoons of the frogs and a Budweiser beach towel.

Francine Katz, an Anheuser-Busch vice president, said in a statement today that Anheuser-Busch did not believe the lawsuit has merit. "Our marketing and advertising is directed at adults and is placed in programming that is watched overwhelmingly by adults." The beer maker cited a 2003 review of industry marketing activities by the Federal Trade Commission that "confirms our practices are responsible."

The company also said that in California underage drinking has declined.

'Frivolous' B Miller called the suit "frivolous" and "without merit" and said such lawsuits "obfuscate the real issues." The marketer also said it intended to "vigorously" defend itself in court.

It also pointed to the FTC's study and the agency's conclusion that there is "no evidence of intent to target minors with [flavored malt beverage] products, packaging or advertising."

Mr. Berman said he named the two brewers -- and not Coors Brewing Co. or others -- in part because he wanted to avoid some of the problems that arose during the tobacco litigation, when numerous defendants made cases hard to hear.

Market leaders
"These two brewers account for 70% of the market share. They were more egregious in the type of conduct they engaged in," he said.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Lynne and Reed Goodwin, who lost a 20-year-old daughter when a drunken, underage driver hit her.

Mr. Berman said he has no plans to sue in other states. A similar court case was filed in November in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

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