LB 824 opponents: Alcopops decision contributes to underage drinking

By JOE DUTTON

Staff Reporter

There is a constant fight to end underage drinking in the state of Nebraska.

Some opponents believe that one legislative bill, LB 824, passed by the Legislature will have a negative impact on reducing underage drinking by reducing the rate of fruity alcoholic beverages known as “alcopops.”

The bill continues the practice of categorizing “alcopops,” such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirinoff Ice, as a beer product rather than a distilled spirit. It overturned a Nebraska Supreme Court decision in early March that alcopops be taxed as a distilled spirit.

Project Extra Mile Executive Director Diane Riibe said she couldn’t “express enough” how she felt the bill would keep the flavored malt beverages in the hands of minors.

“It is really discouraging that senators are ignoring first and foremost the safety of our kids.” Riibe said. “It is really an ignoring of a large body of research at the expense of our children’s health and safety. The most tragic part is that the senators don’t believe what we are telling them.”

The current Nebraska tax rate on spirits is $3.75 per gallon compared to 31 cents per gallon for beer products.

According to the Nebraska Risk and Protective Factor Student Survey Results of 2010, underage drinking has cost the citizens of Nebraska $423 million within the same year from youth-related alcohol issues.

For senators not to raise the tax on the alcoholic beverages, is simply mind numbing to Riibe, who had hoped that senators can at least meet somewhere in the middle with a possible amendment.

“As a taxpayer, it is silliness that senators are leaving all this money on the table,” Riibe said.

According to information on the issue, new and improved alcoholic beverages are constantly changing and new products are being produced faster than surveyors can keep up with when studying which products are the most popular with teens when providing consumption data reports.

Products are also getting stronger with alcohol content and companies are getting better at filtering out the bitter taste of alcohol with a fruit flavor which is easier for teenagers to consume, Richards said.

Lanette Richards, project coordinator of Project Extra Mile in Scottsbluff, feels that the alcohol industry should be regulated just like tobacco companies are.

“In fighting alcohol (industry), we need to take the steps that the people who were fighting against the tobacco industry did,” Richards said. “The alcohol industry is self regulatory, there is no one there to check them out to do as they are told.”

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