KINGMAN - How energy drinks are marketed is being called into question by at least two people concerned with underage drinking.
Melissa Puett, deputy public defender in the Mohave County Public Defender's Office, brought up the topic of alcoholic and non-alcoholic energy drinks toward the end of an April 8 meeting of The Coalition for Successful Youth Development.
They are sold in many convenience stores, supermarkets and at Wal-Mart. Puett's office assistant visited a Circle K store, where she purchased a cross-section of energy drinks available.
"The alcoholic and non-alcoholic energy drinks are right next to each other," Puett said. "My concern is they look exactly the same, so a kid buying one can get an alcoholic drink that is cheaper and nobody checks what he's buying (at the cash register).
"I work with kids and about a dozen, both on and off probation, tell me they've bought the drinks at Circle K and other stores without IDs being checked."
Tilt and Sparks are marketed as energy drinks. Tilt contains 8 percent alcohol by volume, while Sparks has 6 percent alcohol by volume. That is higher than the alcohol content of beer, Puett said.
Puett produced a cash register tape from Circle K showing individual cans of Tilt and Sparks sell for $1.69 apiece.
Non-alcoholic energy drinks purchased at the same time cost more. They included $2.65 for Full Throttle, $2.59 for lo-carb Monster, and $2.39 for Rockstar Guava.
A can of Rehab also was purchased on sale for $2.50.
A reporter visited three Circle K stores in Kingman. Tilt and Sparks were found in the same cooler with beer at all three locations. Beer was two coolers away from non-alcoholic energy drinks at one of the stores and three coolers away at another store.
A check also was made at Wal-Mart in Kingman. Tilt could not be found, while Sparks was only available in a four-pack selling for $5.57. It was in the beer section.
Non-alcoholic energy drinks were on the same aisle on shelves opposite the beer. They were available both singly and in four packs.
Puett said alcoholic drinks sold in packages are coded to trigger a beeping sound at the cash register to alert the clerk to check the ID of the purchaser. Cans sold individually elsewhere afford no such safety.
"I'm also concerned with alcohol getting into schools," Puett said. "Kids are forced to deal with peer pressure and we make it so easy with this. It sends up a red flag when drinks look similar and there's such a discrepancy in their price."
Pam Kowalski is director of community development for Arizona Youth Partnership, the agency that administers the grant for The Coalition for Successful Youth Development.
"The alcoholic varieties of energy drinks are cheaper than the non-alcoholic varieties," Kowalski said. "In display cases in some stores, they're mixed, so maybe some students don't know what they're getting and most parents won't think to check them."
Kowalski's daughter, Kristie, is a junior at Kingman High School. Kristie made a presentation at a meeting of the Kingman City Council in which she stated a fellow student put on Myspace that he keeps energy drinks in his bedroom and his mother does not know they contain alcohol, Kowalski said.
Janet Watson, a City Council member, did some investigating of her own at two mini-market convenience stores on Hualapai Mountain Road. She then contacted the Miner.
Alcoholic drinks were in the beer section and separate from the non-alcoholic drink coolers at both locations. Clerks at both stores told her there is no special scanning equipment, but that employees know which energy drinks contain alcohol and which do not, adding IDs are checked with alcohol purchases.
Larry Brueggemier, director of marketing for the Arizona Region of Circle K, responded to questions from the Miner.
He said Sparks and Tilt are the two brands of energy drinks containing alcohol and that they are displayed in coolers with beer. He disputes the claim that some juveniles are able to buy them without having IDs checked.
"Our system prompts employees on any alcohol sale to check for ID," Brueggemier said.
"We have a large presence here in Arizona and are diligent in handling of alcoholic drinks. We're a responsible retailer and reinforce to our employees our sales procedures. They are trained and the register stops a transaction whenever alcohol is scanned."
Asked about the pricing discrepancy between alcoholic and non-alcoholic energy drinks, Brueggemier said you must ask distributors about that - Circle K is a retailer that takes a product and sells it at a margin above its cost.