Friday, August 3, 2007
Alcopops: California Cracks Down on Kid-Friendly Alcohol
“Training Beers” and “Girlie Drinks” Come Under Fire
In June, the California State Assembly passed the “Alcopops Warning Label Bill,” requiring a warning label on the bubbly, sweetened, premixed alcohol drinks sold in mini-marts and gas stations and often indistinguishable from soda and juice drinks.
Critics say that the beverages, which contain 5 to 8 % alcohol and are currently taxed as beer in California, are designed and labeled specifically to attract underage drinkers. The State Senate is currently considering the bill. Several states have already reclassified the drinks.
In “The Cost of Alcopops to Youth and California,” the Marin Institute, a California-based alcohol industry watchdog, claims that fruit-flavored alcopops “fuel the underage drinking epidemic by serving as a transition or bridge from soft drinks to alcohol, especially for youth. The alcohol flavor is masked by sweeteners and young people report drinking alcopops because they are easier to conceal and ‘go down easy.’” According to a high school student quoted in the New York Times, Smirnoff Ice “tasted like a Sprite with a splash of 7-Up.” Other products in the alcopop line include Bacardi Silver, and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
The primary argument is that the beverages contain distilled spirits, yet are sold, advertised, and taxed as beer. The Marin Institute, the prime mover in the attempt to reclassify the beverages as hard liquor for tax purposes, scoffs at the liquor industry’s insistence that such products are “flavored malt beverages.” According to the Institute, “How else could these corporations explain why in the U.K. and elsewhere, alcopop products such as Smirnoff Ice are marketed as containing vodka, while the exact same brands in the U.S. are instead called “malt beverages?”
Reclassifying the beverages would cost the liquor industry dearly. Currently in California, beer is subject to a state tax of 20 cents per gallon. In contrast, distilled spirits are hit with a tax of $3.30 per gallon. At least five European countries—Germany, the U.K., Switzerland, Denmark and France—have boosted taxes on alcopop products. In Germany, for example, taxes on alcopop products are 16 times higher than in most American states. (The U.S. has the second-lowest alcohol prices in the world, after Luxembourg, says the Marin Institute.) After the U.K. raised taxes on the products in 2002, consumption fell by more than 40%. Germany saw an even more dramatic decline as alcopops became expensive, with no accompanying increase in sales of other alcohol products.
The original alcopop was the wine cooler of the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, the emphasis switched from wine to beer bases with alcohol-containing flavorings, producing the so-called “hard” lemonades and teas now available.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates than more than 10 million Americans under the age of 21 drink alcohol.
--Rosen, Simon and Simon, Michele. “The Cost of Alcopops to Youth and California. The Marin Institute. July 2007. http://www.marininstitute.org/alcopops/index.htm
--Marshall, Carolyn. “Drinks With Youth Appeal Draw Growing Opposition.” New York Times. April 13, 2007.”
--“Alcopop market showing FAB-ulous growth.” Food&DrinkEurope.com. 02/04/2003.