Schwarzenegger Urged to Veto "Alcopop" Tax Break

So-called "Malternatives" Aim to be Kids' First Drink, According to CSPI


The controversial, sweet-tasting alcoholic drinks known as "alcopops," many of which bear the brand names of hard liquor companies such as Bacardi, Smirnoff, Skyy, and Stolichnaya, derive some of their alcohol content from distilled spirits and should be taxed and regulated accordingly, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The group today urged California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto legislation that would tax alcopops at the low rate assessed for beer, and make the drinks available everywhere beer is sold.

"These alcopop drinks represent a sneak attack on society's efforts to shield kids from liquor marketing and deter underage drinking," said George A. Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at CSPI. "We shouldn't be rewarding this kind of corporate irresponsibility with special tax breaks. We hope Governor Schwarzenegger vetoes this special-interest giveaway."

Although some of the alcohol in these drinks comes from malt fermentation like the alcohol in beer, some of the alcohol in alcopops comes from distilled spirits, which also provide some of the flavor. In this way, says CSPI, alcopops manufacturers have the best of both worlds: They can give consumers the impression that the drinks have the vodka or rum associated with brand names such as Bacardi or Smirnoff, yet they can give regulators the impression that these drinks are more like beer. CSPI's public opinion surveys indicate that alcopops are popular among young people, and that adults strongly favor restrictions on marketing alcopops to kids.

If Gov. Schwarzenegger does not veto Assembly Bill 417, alcopops will be taxed at 20 cents per gallon as opposed to the $3.30 rate per gallon for liquor. California Attorney General Bill Lockyear, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and other public health and safety advocates are also opposed to a tax break for alcopops.

"Governor Schwarzenegger displayed great courage in standing up to the soda and snack-food lobby by getting junk food out of schools," Hacker said. "We hope he similarly stands up to the alcohol industry, which has sunk to new lows in recent years peddling these alcopops to a young audience."

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