Action Alert!

Alcopops Issues

Comments Needed To Improve Alcopops Regulation!

 

On March 24, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB; formerly the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) issued proposed regulations to change the classification and labeling rules governing alternative malt beverages, a.k.a. alcopops.  You have until October 21 to submit written comments about the proposed regulations.

 

Click here to see CSPI's written comments.

 

What is at  Stake:

 

Alcopops, also known as flavored malt beverages or malternatives, gained popularity in the past few years as an accessible, sweet-tasting alcoholic drink heavily favored by underage drinkers.  Many of these products have liquor brand names and actually contain alcohol derived from spirits, rather than malt-beverage sources.  Despite their alcohol content, they have been treated much like malt beverages, distributed through the same channels, and taxed at the beer rate.  In addition, despite their obvious promotion of liquor brands, they’re advertised on network television, as if they were beer, making a mockery of network policies against hard-liquor advertising.  Classifying the products as distilled spirits would reduce the number of outlets in which the products are sold, increase the taxes on the products to the liquor rate, and perhaps discourage the networks from accepting advertising for them.  It might also help dispel some of the consumer confusion that has developed surrounding the identity of the products.

 

 

ACTION NEEDED

 

CSPI urges groups and individuals to weigh in on this important matter by sending feedback on the proposed regulations to the TTB no later than October 21, 2003.  Include your name, mailing address, a legible signature if you are mailing or faxing your letter, and your e-mail address if you are submitting your comments via e-mail.  All comments should reference "TTB Notice No. 4."  Read on for talking points.  Please send a copy of your comments to CSPI for our records: alcproject@cspinet.org.

 

There are four simple ways to submit your opinion:

 

What the Regulation Proposes:

 

The TTB proposes two major changes to its current rules regarding flavored malt beverages.

 

1.  In order to be classified, taxed, and regulated as a malt beverage like beer, alcoholic beverages must contain less than one-half of one percent (0.5%) of alcohol content by volume from added distilled spirits and flavorings.  In other words, all but 0.5% of the alcohol content by volume of a malt beverage must come from the brewing process, and not be derived by the distilling of spirits.

 

CSPI strongly supports this proposed standard as appropriate and necessary.

 

2.  TTB also proposes changes in the labeling and advertising rules for "alcopop" malt beverages that derive more than 0.5% of alcohol by volume from non-brewed sources.  The TTB would mandate that alcohol content be listed on the brand label and would limit the use of many (but not all) misleading labeling terms.  For example, an alcopop could have a brand name that was the same as the original liquor brand name (e.g., Smirnoff Ice), but could not include spirit type or cocktail terms (e.g., rum, whisky, margarita) in the name or anywhere on the label.

 

CSPI supports changes that minimize consumer deception, but strongly urges TTB to require that all "alcopops" and beers (whatever the source of their alcohol) be required to label alcohol content.  We also urge TTB to require other labeling (calories, serving size, ingredients) that will provide consumers with information about what they're drinking.

 

Talking Points:

 

It's important that your comments include your position on the regulation, why you think the regulations are sound, and the reasons for your concern about alcopops and underage drinking.  Here are some talking points to get you started.

  • As a consumer, I am troubled by the mislabeling and taxation of many flavored malt beverages as malt beverages, despite the source of their alcohol content.  I support the TTB's proposal to clarify and correct the taxation, classification, and handling of flavored malt beverages by treating these beverages as distilled spirits.

  • I support the proposed regulation because of my concern about underage drinking, and the appeal of "alcopops" to young people.  Correct classification, appropriate distribution, and responsible labeling will help reduce the chance that teenagers will have easy access to these alcopops.

  • I support the proposed regulation regarding classification of certain flavored malt beverages as spirits products.  Makers of flavored malt beverages should not be permitted to manipulate existing laws to find the lowest taxes, easiest distribution, and most accessible advertising.  If a product is made from distilled beverages, it should be treated as such.

  • I support TTB's proposed alcohol content labeling for certain malternatives, but urge TTB to require such labeling for all "alcopop" products as well as for beer.

  • Thank you for addressing this serious issue.  While I am sure there will be cries of "economic hardship" from the industry, I urge you to keep the regulation strong, clear, and uncompromised.  The larger public health and safety issue needs to be expeditiously addressed by finalizing this rule.  TTB should act quickly to avoid further delays in pending state efforts to appropriately regulate "alcopop" products.

 

For facts to support your comments, see our alcopops fact sheet:  www.cspinet.org/booze/FactSheets/030716AlcopopFS.pdf

 

For a copy of CSPI's written comments on this regulation:  www.cspinet.org/booze/CSPI_MalternativesRule_Comment_FINAL.pdf

 

For the proposed regulation in its entirety:  www.ttb.gov/notices/ttbnotice_no10.pdf

 

For CSPI's survey data on consumer perceptions of alcopops:  www.cspinet.org/booze/alcopops.htm

 

Please contact Amy Gotwals, Manager of Grassroots Advocacy, for further information and guidance:  agotwals@cspinet.org or 202-332-9110, ext. 348.

 

October 2003

For more information, please send us an email.

 

 

 

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Center for Science in the Public Interest

Alcohol Policies Project

1220 L St. NW, Suite 300

Washington, DC  20005

Phone: 202-332-9110 * Fax: 202-265-4954 * Web: www.cspinet.org/booze