Alcopops have been in the news of late in Maryland. The legislature in Annapolis passed a bill this year officially designating the drinks, such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Jack Daniel’s Hard Cola, Smirnoff Source and Sparks, as beer, meaning they are taxed significantly lower than distilled spirits, which some folks say they should be classified as.
It’s important to point out here this debate is all about money and has little to do with teenagers, who are being used in the political process to further this debate. Advocates say the easy-tasting drinks are marketed to teens specifically and classifying them as a spirit will make it more difficult for teens to get access to them because they will no longer be available at convenience stores, which are much more prevalent than liquor outlets and traditionally not as diligent when it comes to carding minors.
In the face of intense lobbying efforts, Gov. Martin O’Malley refused to sign off on the legislation last month, saying he needed more time to consider the measure. Organizations, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have encouraged him to veto the measure. It’s unclear whether the governor will make the bold move of vetoing the legislation, which was strongly supported by both the House of Delegates and Senate.
If the governor vetoes the legislation, the state will reportedly be able to collect $3 million more in liquor taxes off the sale of the alcopops. The levy on distilled spirits is much higher than the tax on beer and wine. That’s one part of the financial equation. The other part is the liquor industry wants these drinks to continue to be available in convenience stores because their bottom lines have a better chance of staying intact than if they were relegated to liquor stores, where sales will inevitably drop because they will not be as readily available to consumers, including teen-agers. This stands to reason because there are many more convenience stores than outlets solely selling distilled spirits, such as vodka, gin, rum and tequila.
It’s obvious to us minors are being used as political pawns in this discussion. We do not buy the argument that the drinks and those peddling them specifically target underage consumers. Sure, some teens may prefer to drink these fruity concoctions, but the same can be said for a woman in her 40s who does not like the taste of beer or a man in his 60s who prefers them to wine or hard liquor on a hot afternoon.
Whether we like it or not, teens who want to drink will consume whatever they can get their hands on, no matter if it’s beer, wine, liquor or Smirnoff Wild Grape. It’s more about the price and whether they can fool the merchant than the taste. A majority of minors don’t care what they drink. If they make the decision to drink, they want whatever they can get their hands on.
The debate over how to classify the alcopops is an interesting one, but it needs to be made clear this issue has nothing to do with teens. It’s about the green.