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:
- Create brand confusion with nonalcoholic versions
- Provide a cheap alternative to mixing energy drinks with alcohol
- 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.