Local youth teamed up with doctors, teachers, law enforcement officers and health experts at the San Diego County Alcohol Policy Panel's annual Legislative Forum on Underage Drinking to ask the Governor to reclassify alcopops as distilled spirits and to investigate the labeling practices of alcoholic products marketed to teens.
Youth gave law enforcement officers and teachers energy drinks, some with alcohol some without, to see if they can tell the difference between an energy drink containing alcohol and one without. "These drinks taste very similar to each other. Most adults we have found can't tell which have alcohol in them," said Mary Kate Foster, chair of the San Diego County Youth Council. "On top of that, the alcohol industry labeling practices make it too hard to tell the difference between drinks that contain alcohol and those that don't. It's not surprising some parents are accidentally purchasing these items for their kids."
Alcoholic energy drinks are prepackaged beverages that contain not only alcohol but also caffeine and other stimulants. Caffeine, a stimulant, masks the intoxicating effects of alcohol. Alcohol is associated with alcohol-related traffic accidents, violence, sexual assault, and suicide. "Alcopops and other products like alcohol-laced energy drinks have special appeal to young people. We know that teenagers and young adults are the core consumer group for these products," says Judy Walsh-Jackson of The California Coalition on Alcopops and Youth. According to a recent report published by The Marin Institute thirty-one percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and thirty-four percent of 18- to 24-year-olds report regular consumption of energy drinks. "Alcohol problems among youth constitute a public health and safety crisis of major proportions. Alcohol in energy drinks creates a dangerous mix," concluded Ms. Walsh-Jackson.
The California Coalition on Alcopops and Youth, along with the San Diego County Alcohol Policy Panel expressed its appreciation during the forum to the State Board of Equalization, who voted in August to tax alcopops as distilled spirits, as well as The Public Law Group, who received an award for filing two actions pro bono to compel the state to tax and regulate the drinks as distilled spirits.
"We deeply appreciate the State Board of Equalization, who voted 3-2 in August to protect our youth by taxing alcopops as distilled spirits," stated Patty Drieslein, Program Coordinator of the San Diego County Alcohol Policy Panel. Before this historic vote, which was sparked by a petition filed by young people, and supported by the California Coalition on Alcopops and Youth, alcopops were disingenuously marketed and sold as beer even though they contain distilled spirits. Now that alcopops will be taxed appropriately as distilled spirits (at $3.30 per gallon) instead of beer (at .20 cents per gallon), the state could collect more than $40 million per year in revenues. "The public needs to be alerted to the problems created by alcohol mixed with energy drinks and the confusion stemming from current labeling practices. Our law enforcement, education, healthcare, and other community partners implore the Legislature and the Governor to protect the health and safety of our young people from the aggressive marketing of the alcohol industry," continued Drieslein.
"We are facing a new adversary, energy drinks with alcohol," concluded Mary Kate Foster. "As young people, we are calling upon our leaders today to reclassify alcopops and to investigate the labeling practices of alcoholic products marketed to teens. Our future depends on it."