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California, Alcopops, and AB 417

Current debate swirls statewide around the question of whether alcopops should be classified as beer or distilled spirits. This issue is important because the way an alcoholic beverage is classified affects the type of retail outlets in which it may be sold. According to the California Attorney General’s office and legal experts, alcopops should be classified as distilled spirits. Yet alcopop marketers have been selling these products as beer for the last decade. As such, they are currently available in approximately 35,000 additional retail outlets statewide. Many of these outlets are convenience stores typically located in youth-filled residential neighborhoods.

AB 417, which was passed in the final hours of the 2005 legislative session, redefined “beer” in California to include alcopops. This ensured that alcopop marketers could continue to distribute their products to these additional retail outlets, as well as allow them to escape network television’s ban on distilled spirits advertising. Research shows that underage youth are more likely to be familiar with alcopops advertising than adults. It is also believed that distillers use alcopops as a way to get their brand names on television shows that appeal to a youthful audience.

In October of 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 417. In his veto message the Governor noted the need for more dialogue of these products. The California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs gathered more information on this issue, in particular, youth’s perception of alcopops. The results are based on conversations involving 304 California youth in 41 focus groups focusing on six issues:

  • Awareness—How aware are young people of these types of sweet alcoholic drinks?
  • Popularity—How popular are these sweet alcoholic drinks among students in their school or community?
  • Youth use—How often do young people their age use these types of sweet alcoholic drinks?
  • Transitional beverages—How do youth use alcohol? In particular, how do they begin to drink these sweet alcoholic beverages, and how do they begin to drink other types of alcohol?
  • Advertising—How aware are youth of advertising for these types of sweet alcoholic drinks?
  • Problem behaviors—Does drinking these beverages cause any problems for young people in their school or community?

The following highlight the findings of the study:

    • California youth are very aware of alcopops as a distinct type of alcoholic beverage. This awareness is fueled by advertising as well as peer interaction, and the youth are very familiar with the youth-oriented appeals of the alcopops advertisements, particularly on television.
    • California youth share perceptions of what makes alcopops different than other alcoholic beverages. They are seen as palatable and sweet, easy to drink, easier to conceal physically and after consumption than other alcoholic drinks, and they are often seen as producing a “buzz” that is easier to control and less dangerous than other alcoholic beverages.
    • California youth agree that alcopops are more appealing to girls than to boys, that they are more appealing to younger teens (though this is mostly true for boys), and that they are more appealing to lighter drinkers.
    • California youth agree that alcopops are easy to get ahold of, and that the adult perception that they are less serious as alcoholic beverages makes them easier to obtain through a variety of methods.

For more information about this report, see the link below: