Liquor Outlets Lack Shelf Space for Fruity Malt Beverages

Liquor Outlets Lack Shelf Space for Fruity Malt Beverages

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state liquor warehouse and retail outlets don't have enough room to stock low-alcohol malt beverages, a switch Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff proposed to get the malt beverages out of grocery stories.

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said it lacks refrigerated shelf space in its stores to handle the alcoholic colas, lemonade and fruit-flavored drinks, and its warehouse can't keep the perishable potables cold enough.

"The first thing I wondered when I heard the attorney general's proposal was, 'Where are we going to put it?"' ABC director Kenneth F. Wynn told the state's liquor commission on Friday. "We don't have space in our stores."

Shurtleff told commission members the state needs stricter controls over drinks such as Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Silver and Mike's Hard Lemonade because the products appeal to underage and novice drinkers who may move on to hard liquor.

Labeling the beverages the "Joe Camel" of alcohol, Shurtleff said about a third of teenagers express a preference for the so-called "alcopops."

Shurtleff and Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe have sent letters to other attorneys general advocating stricter controls over malt beverages like alcoholic colas, lemonade and fruit-flavored drinks.

Shurtleff and Rowe are co-chairmen of the National Association of Attorneys General's Youth Access to Alcohol Task Force.

Although malt beverages contain less alcohol than beer, Shurtleff wants the state law changed to control and tax the products as distilled spirits. That would mean those beverages could be sold only in the 136 state liquor stores and package agencies instead of more than 1,300 supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations.

Opponents contend Shurtleff's emphasis on a single product category is misplaced.

"Everyone's goal is to do away with underage drinking," said Marc Sorini, spokesman for the Flavored Malt Beverage Coalition, which represents malt beverage manufacturers. "Restricting access to one category of product isn't going to do anything to address that problem."

Most underage drinkers get alcohol from parents or friends, while others get it either by using a false identification or asking a stranger to buy it for them, said Sorini, quoting research of the Utah alcoholic beverage control department.

"Underage drinking isn't something that can be solved by a simple legislative feel-good solution," Sorini said.

Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, said that even if the state were able to ban the sale of malt beverages, teenagers still would get alcohol. "Attacking one product just doesn't make sense," he said.

Shurtleff said the state could boost tax collections by reclassifying malt beverages as distilled spirits rather than beer, but Sorini argued a bigger tax on malt beverages would depress sales and defeat higher tax collections.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune,

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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