Steve Berman, a class action lawyer from Seattle, has filed a lawsuit in California against the world’s two biggest brewers, accusing them of advertising to minors and seeking $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. Berman previously successfully sued tobacco makers in 13 states by charging, in part, that they targeted youth.
In November, Washington, D.C., plastic surgeon Ayman Hakki sued several drink producers, claiming they market and advertise their products to underage drinkers. Named in that suit filed in the District of Columbia were Adolph Coors Co., Heineken N.V.; Mark Anthony Brands of Canada, maker of Mike’s Hard Lemonade; and alcohol distillers Bacardi USA Inc., Brown-Forman Crop., Diageo PLC and Kobrand Corp. Also named as a defendant is the Beer Institute of Washington, D.C.
Aside from the $4 billion in profit, the California suit seeks an injunction barring any further efforts to reach an underage audience.
Berman 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.”
Francine Katz, an Anheuser-Busch vice president, said 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.”
Miller did not return calls for comment.