Our kids, our legislature and the liquor lobby

If you aren’t angry or frustrated enough with the blatant role money plays in influencing the legislative process in Washington, D.C., you’ll find plenty to be unhappy about in the way the liquor industry is trying to kill a bill right here in California that will help protect our kids from being enticed into drinking alcohol disguised as innocent beverages.
This is the saga of ALCOPOP, a drink that mimics lemonade, soda pop and popular fruity energy drinks.The hitch is that ALCOPOPS are laced with distilled spirits. They are specifically designed to lure underage drinkers into developing a drinking habit. They sport monikers like “Mike’s Hard Lemonade”, Smirnoff Ice”, “Jack Daniels Original Hard Cola”, and “Bacardi Silver”.

These ALCOPOPS or, due to their appeal to adolescent girls, “Cheerleader Beer”, are “gateway” drinks that are cleverly concocted to appeal to youthful palates. All bitterness is removed; they are flavored with sweeteners and fruit flavorings. They are colored lime green, raspberry red and lemon yellow to imitate popular non-alcoholic brews.
The kicker is that they are taxed like beer, at 20 cents per gallon, even though they contain hard liquor and should, therefore, be taxed at the hard liquor rate of $3.30 per gallon. They are also distributed like beer, making them readily available at thousands of convenience stores, gas stations, neighborhood grocery stores and numerous other locations where enforcement against underage drinking is spotty and lax at best.
According to the American Medical Association, girls who drink ALCOPOPS are far more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors including riding with other teens who have been drinking, engaging in unprotected sex and binge drinking. Some girls have had their first ALCOPOP by the age of 9!
Concern over how the drinks are advertised, marketed and distributed is uniting youth groups including Friday Night Live, the Girl Scouts, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the PTA, health and safety groups, emergency room physicians, law enforcement officials (including Attorney General Bill Lockyer), and faith-based groups behind legislation authored by San Francisco lawmaker, Carole Migden. Midgen’s bill, SB1180, will require California to study the marketing and distribution of ALCOPOPS to our state’s teens.
Given the vast coalition supporting this bill, it should be a slam dunk. But wait! The liquor industry has an ally in Assemblymember Jerome Horton, Chair of the Governmental Organization committee in Sacramento that will soon decide the fate of Migden’s bill. Horton, by the way, is also running for a seat on the Board of Equalization(as the District 4 member)–the very taxing authority that has been blindly taxing ALCOPOPS at the lower rate. Not surprisingly, Big Booze and stores that sell ALCOPOPS have poured over $78,000 into Horton’s campaign coffersto date. Also not surprisingly, those same interests have not given a dime to his rival for the Board of Equalization, Assemblymember Judy Chu, a strong opponent of marketing booze to kids.
Horton has played a key role in this battle over ALCOPOPS. Last year he ramrodded through his committe liquor-industry legislation at the 11th hour, giving its opponents only minutes notice before a hasty, perfunctory hearing. That legislation by Republican Greg Aghazarian (AB 417) would have eliminated California’s ability to regulate how “beer” is defined, taxed and distributed and handed over a state’s rights issue (the control of alcohol) to a much more sympathetic federal government…..the Bush administration—which has yet to meet a big business it wouldn’t support over protecting the public. Barraged by opponents, including voices from the religious right, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill, citing the flawed process, which shut out public awareness and debate.
Usually, Board of Equalization candidates and races don’t attract alot of attention. But this is a race to watch closely. Especially if you’re concerned about the health and safety of California’s children. The two Democrats running couldn’t be more different in their values and approaches to their responsibilities as protectors of the public
SB1180 will be up for a vote shortly in the State Senate where it is likely to pass. Next stop is Mr. Horton’s committee. We’ll be sending an ACTION ALERT to ensure that Mr. Horton and his committee know where you stand on this important measure. The election for Board of Equalization is June 6th. For those of you who will be voting in that 4th district (primarly LA County), you’ll want to pay very close attention to this measure.
Our elected officials need to hear loud and clear that their job is to protect our children, not the liquor industry.We’ll continue to follow the money…..and have more for you in the days and weeks ahead on the fate of this legislation to crack down on the companies that are willing to sacrfice our children’s health for their profits.