Beer giants served with $4bn lawsuit

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The Independent Online

Brewing giants Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller have been hit by a $4bn (£2.2bn) lawsuit accusing them of targeting under-age drinkers in their advertising campaigns.

The suit was filed in a Californian court last week and while both companies have denied the claims, there are fears that the drinks industry could become a litigation target in much the same way as the tobacco sector.

One industry insider said: "Tobacco litigation has run its course in the US now and you get the impression that alcohol and food producers are going to be the next targets."

The suit is not the first to be served on the industry: brewer Adolph Coors and the owner of Jack Daniels, Brown-Forman, said in November that they had been accused of marketing their products to under-age drinkers.

The Californian suit, which focuses on "alcopops", has been filed by Steve Berman, a Seattle-based class action lawyer. In the past, he has claimed partial successes in suing tobacco firms over claims they were targeting the young.

Mr Berman is reported to have filed the suit because of recent studies examining the link between teenage beer consumption and advertising. The suit also claims that the two brewers are bolstering their profits with sales to under-age drinkers.

It is based on two pieces of Californian legislation, one of which bans advertising that promotes under-age drinking. The parents of a 20-year-old woman killed by a young drink-driver are understood to be involved in the suit.

US giant Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewer and owner of Budweiser and Michelob among other brands, said: "We do not believe that this lawsuit has merit. Our marketing and advertising is directed at adults and is placed in programming that is watched overwhelmingly by adults."

SABMiller's US business, Miller Brewing, called the suit "frivolous" and said it was "completely without merit".