Federal, state and local groups and agencies are celebrating a landmark victory this week with a ruling by the California State Board of Equalization to tax so-called “alcopop” drinks as distilled spirits, rather than at the lower beer rate. The reason for the celebration is not about increased state tax revenues, but because higher prices mean fewer kids will buy the drinks. It’s all about helping to reduce the numbers of underage drinkers who could wind up needing alcohol detox later in life.
Alcopop producers have been saying all along that their drinks are “brewed malt” categorized in most states as beer. But according to the California Youth and Alcopops Coalition, up to 90 percent of the alcohol contained in the soft-drink-like beverages is derived from distilled spirits. California agreed, and state law says a beverage with any detectable amount of distilled alcohol is not a beer product. California taxes beer at 20 cents per gallon, while distilled spirits are taxed at per gallon. The result will be at least a 25% increase in the price of the drinks. Similar legislation is being considered in most other states.
Alcopops are sweetened alcoholic beverages that are often bubbly and fruit-flavored like soda or other soft drinks, with a proven appeal to underage drinkers – especially teenage girls. We’ve seen these drinks on the shelves, and mistaken them many times for soft drinks. According to the Marin Institute, which lobbied hard for the tax increase, alcopops are sweet, flashy and with fruity flavors and names like Razzberry and Pomegranate Twist, it’s no wonder they’re popular with young teens and middle schoolers. But teenagers gleefully downing alcopops don’t realize that these fun fizzy drinks can lead them into alcohol dependence and Alcohol Detox.
In several European countries as well as the US, studies show that the retail price of alcoholic beverages impacts sales – especially sales to minors, who have a more limited budget than working adults. Wherever prices have been lowered, such as in Scandinavia and the UK, alcohol abuse statistics have worsened. Where prices have been raised, alcohol-related problems and subsequent alcohol detox and treatment statistics have improved. That’s the hope in California.
Meanwhile, brewers and distillers still insist their alcopop products are aimed at legal-age drinkers. Oh please! If that were actually true, then their marketing campaigns would be way off the mark – and they’re plenty smart enough to know when that happens. These marketers are letting the profit motive drive unknown numbers of young people into a bleak future of alcohol dependence, interrupted or ruined lives and alcohol detox as their only salvation.
For example, in the UK, advertising for at least two alcopops has already been banned for appealing directly to underage drinkers. Here in the US, a survey by the Center for Applied Research Solutions for the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs showed that youths are definitely attracted to the colorful, hip packaging of alcopops, that kids underestimate their alcohol content, and that these drinks are, in fact, very popular with teens. Yet another report on underage drinking by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth found that teenage girls are now binge drinking more than boys.
And finally, the American Medical Association’s “Girlie Drinks” survey released last year concluded that alcopops are the alcoholic beverage most frequently consumed by most teenage girls, and the least-favored by adult women. And recent statistics show that alcohol-dependent females are an increasing alcohol detox and rehab statistic – just look at the news, and see the girls’ names as often as the guys. That’s a recent and significant change. If nothing is done to stop the trend, it is certain that more people than ever will wind up in alcohol detox.