If there is anything we can count on the alcohol industry to do, it is to develop more ways to sell alcoholic beverages and enrich its bottom line. Of course, this comes at the expense of families, public health, and public safety. Regarding the most recent issue of ready-to-drink cocktails, laws permitting such behavior must be signed before anything more can be done to make it easier to buy these drinks.
At the very end of the 2023 Legislative Session, Governor Kay Ivey signed a law allowing for the creation of a Mixed Spirit Beverage Task Force, composed of five lawmakers from each house of the Legislature. The purpose would be to examine the issues related to ready-to-drink cocktails (described below), such as selling, distributing, and taxing the drinks. The goal is to present policy recommendations on the issue for the 2024 Legislative Session.
The legislative push is a part of the alcohol industry’s latest ploy to expand sales by flooding Alabama’s convenience stores, grocery stores, and drug stores with ready-to-drink, liquor-based alcoholic beverages––often referred to as “mixed-spirits beverages” or, less formally, “cocktails- in-a-can.”
State Senators Steve Livingston (Scottsboro) and Bobby Singleton (Greensboro) sponsored bills during the 2023 Legislative Session that would have expanded the availability of these cocktails-in-a-can. Currently, for off-premise use, these liquor products are sold only in liquor stores, which are off-limits to those under age 21.
Their bills, SB194 and SB321, respectively, would have created a new category for these products – some with high alcohol content – and loosened restrictions, allowing the drinks to be put on the shelves of thousands more stores, including those frequented by underage. At an Alabama Senate public hearing, I spoke out against this effort. I argued that it was morally wrong to make these dangerous mixed drinks more accessible because it would only encourage more Alabamians to become drunk quickly. These bills, thankfully, were not passed into law.
Unsurprisingly, the alcohol industry continues to lobby heavily to expand these beverages’ sales, representing the fastest-growing segment of alcohol sales. So lucrative is this product that soft drink makers, including PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, have joined the crowd by introducing liquor-based alcoholic beverages of their own.
Clearly, Big Alcohol views this legislation as a gold mine. But for the health and safety of Alabama families, it would be disastrous, leading to more consumption, underage drinking, drunk driving, and drunk-driving deaths.
Here are hard facts about these new hard liquor products:
- Liquor and liquor-based products in Alabama can be sold for off-premise use only at private package stores and state liquor stores operated by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. There are about 900 such stores in the state.
- SB194 and SB321 would have allowed liquor-based, ready-to-drink beverages to be sold at numerous other outlets – essentially the convenience stores, grocers, drug stores, and other retailers that sell beer and wine. This would have expanded the number of outlets in Alabama selling liquor products from around 900 to nearly 7,000. Plus, those under 21, including children, would not have been restricted from most of these stores.
- The bills would have allowed these products to have an alcohol-by-volume content of up to 12.5 percent. That’s the equivalent of about three beers. Someone who drinks two cans of a product with that high of an alcohol content would be consuming the equivalent amount of alcohol that’s in a six-pack of beer. How many more drunk-driving crashes will this cause?
- Because of their often sweet, fruity taste, cocktails-in-a-can are especially enticing to young people. Mountain Dew, for example, has come out with a line of Hard Mountain Dew alcoholic beverages with flavors such as Watermelon, Black Cherry, and Baja Blast. Coke now has a Jack Daniel’s product. More underage drinking? Count on it.
- Monster Beverages, a maker of popular energy drinks, has a line of alcoholic drinks called “The Beast Unleashed.” Mixing caffeine and alcohol – what can go wrong?
- In some states where this cocktails-in-a-can are readily available, concerned parents have complained about retailers placing these alcoholic beverages next to non-alcoholic beverages that are popular with teens and children.
Let us not kid ourselves: The goal of the alcohol industry is to sell more alcoholic beverages and boost profits. It cares very little about the toll its products will take on public health and safety.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol consumption kills more than 140,000 Americans yearly. That’s more than the number of drug overdose or gun violence deaths.
Alcohol fuels accidents, crime, and suicides (nearly half of people who commit suicide have alcohol in their system). Recent studies also show that casual drinking, such as one drink a day, can have serious health effects, such as cancer and heart disease.
Why then are lawmakers even contemplating making alcohol more readily available, especially products with a strong appeal to young people?
In the past several years, we have seen our Legislature make it possible for wine, beer and liquor to be delivered to homes, for wine to be ordered online and delivered from out of state, for
microbreweries, wineries, and distillers to sell larger volumes of products, and increased alcohol sales in entertainment districts.
At some point, we need to say enough is enough. Expanding the sale and consumption of alcohol is not good public policy. And it’s certainly not good for Alabama families.
For Alabama’s sake, it was good that legislators said no to this latest round of drinks. However, Big Alcohol will try again in 2024.
Take Action: Support ALCAP’s Efforts
Rev. Greg Davis and ALCAP have been vigilant against the alcohol industry’s attempts to push ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages into our stores, posing a risk to public health and safety. With similar bills likely to re-emerge in 2024, your support is crucial to help prevent such legislation.
- Educate Yourself: Understand the implications of these bills and spread the word.
- Contact Your Legislators: Express your concerns and urge them to oppose such legislation.
- Support ALCAP: Engage with ALCAP to bolster the opposition against these dangerous industry exploits.