Last Call for Alcopops In MD?

May 1, 2008

Join Together, Boston University’s addiction research and advocacy program, reports that lobbying efforts from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) persuaded the governor of Maryland not to sign a bill that provided favorable financial treatment to “alcopop” drinks. Alcopops are heavily flavored alcoholic beverages that the alcohol industry uses to target young people (they prefer to call them “entry level” drinkers.) The early alcopop brands included “Zima” and “Mike’s Hard Lemonade,” but new products are leveraging the popularity of youth-oriented energy drinks.

MADD might find the insurance industry a useful ally in its efforts to restrict the sale of these drinks. I wonder if anyone’s thought of that yet?

Recent products have been packaged to resemble youth-oriented energy drinks. The Marin Institute prepared the photo shown above to demonstrate how drinks like “Sparks” and “Rockstar 21” (“party like a rock star”) resemble teen-oriented caffeine beverages like “Monster” (with its “BFC” designation for “big “f**king” can.”) They’re being priced more cheaply than non-alcoholic energy drinks to exploit that market. And, as one teenager reports in the Marin Institute study (warning: pdf), “… my mom found it, but she had no idea and thought they were just energy drinks.”

MADD and other advocacy groups have targeted laws that allow alcopops to be designated as beer rather than alcohol. Beer is typically taxed at a much lower rate than other alcoholic beverages, and can be sold in many places where others can’t. The Marin Institute describes a three-point plan to target kids as a market for alcohol:

  1. Create brand confusion with nonalcoholic versions
  2. Provide a cheap alternative to mixing energy drinks with alcohol
  3. Deploy youth-friendly grassroots and viral marketing

The Maryland bill addressed taxation only, not sale, and the governor agreed only to delay it. The bill was pushed by the alcohol lobby, which is politically well-organized. That’s why a strategic alliance between MADD and the insurance industry might make sense. After all, when teens are injured or killed as a result of alcohol-related accidents, it’s insurance companies who typically pay the bill. Their pockets are deeper than MADD’s, and their political connections are better.

The etiology of alcohol addiction is still unclear, so it can’t be said definitively that ‘alcopops’ contribute to alcoholism rates. But it could certainly be argued that they contribute to increased episodes of drunkenness, and therefore injury and death. It could also be argued that kids with a predisposition to alcoholism might experience an earlier onset of the condition as a result of these drinks and their marketing strategies.

MADD and America’s Health Insurance Plans, plus MADD and the American Insurance Association: Two matches made in heaven? It could cut into teen death and injury, and the health insurance industry might want a little good publicity right now.


6 Responses to “Last Call for Alcopops In MD?”

  1. GingerB Says:

    What ticked me about this is that Maryland has just enacted some large tax increases.

    Here is something that actually DESERVES to be taxed — and the legislature, which is busy taxing everything under the sun, doesn’t do it!

  2. Bob Rainer Says:

    I agree with Ginger B.! But it is the same as it always has been and probably always shall be. The reason they won’t tax these products is because of the lobbyists that line the pockets of our easily bought politicians. A real shame! Bob Rainer, admin,

  3. koniword Says:

    This issue should be taken very seriously! Using these “energy drinks” to get our youth addicted to alcohol! How sad. There will be hell to pay someday as we raise a generation of alcoholics. On another note, if you would like to learn about quilting, for that is my passion and it keeps me out of trouble and helps me to use my hands in a useful way making nice quilts for others then stop by

  4. Lisa Getz Says:

    This does create “brand confusion” for kids and I agree that it will harm our children in the long run. Let’s tax the bums at least! – Lisa G.

  5. Thank you for writing about this. It really is a seductive thing to mask the taste with sweetness and make it look like an innocent drink. Until I read more about it , I also thought they were just energy drinks. Yikes. I was only worried about red bull before.


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