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Alcopops labeling bill moves to Senate

By Lorraine Heller , 12-Jun-2007

A bill requiring malt liquor beverages to feature warning labels and mark their alcohol content has passed to the State Senate in California.

Assembly Bill 346 would require manufacturers to include the statement "Warning: Contains Alcohol" on labels, as well as information about the product's alcoholic content.


Jointly authored by Assembly Members Lori Saldaña and Jim Beall, the proposed bill aims to prevent the "deceptive" promotion of alcoholic beverages to younger consumers.


Flavored alcoholic beverages, more commonly known as alcopops, particularly appeal to young women. However, they have come under increasing criticism from consumer groups, which claim that beverage firms use these drinks as a way to market alcohol to younger consumers.


According to Saldaña "many of these products are indistinguishable in color and packaging from sports or energy drinks."


"We believe they should be clearly marked so parents, retailers, underage consumers and law enforcement officials know that they are alcoholic beverages and amount of liquor they contain."


Saldaña cited an American Medical Association survey, which reported that a third of girls over 12 have tried alcopops, and 25 percent drove a car after drinking, or rode with a driver who had been.


"Although they contain hard liquor, alcopops have been regulated by California's Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) as if they were beer and wine due to the industry's creative formula of starting with a malt base and reducing it to nearly water before adding distilled flavoring," claims a statement issued by Saldaña's office.


The California Board of Equalization (BOE) is currently involved in the rule-making process to consider the option of taxing alcopops at a rate more appropriate for distilled liquor. The BOE expects this item to come before their five-member Board in late July.


Earlier this year, beverage giant Anheuser-Busch found itself under attack from numerous consumer groups to withdraw its Spykes malt-based beverages, which were accused of carrying 'illegal' warning labels.


In April, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), wrote to the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) - the agency that regulates alcohol labeling - claiming that the drink labels do not meet the government's standards for readability, which include minimum font sizes, a maximum number of characters per inch, and a contrasting background.


In November 2002, TTB rejected a petition by CSPI for improvements in the design of government warning labels for alcoholic beverages. However, the Bureau said it "will continue to review both applications for label approval as well as containers in the marketplace to ensure that health warning statements on alcohol beverage containers meet the requirements of current regulations."


Violations of the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act and TTB regulations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day.


To view TTB's regulatotions on labeling and advertising of malt beverages, click here .

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