Not near beer

Our view : Governor must veto bill to help keep alcopops from teens

April 29, 2008

Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision last week to at least temporarily postpone signing into law legislation to classify as beer so-called alcopops, the sweet, fruity drinks that are particularly appealing to underage drinkers, was a good first step toward protecting the health of Maryland teens. The next would be for the governor to veto the bill - and at least force the legislature to come up with a more reasonable approach to regulating and taxing them.

How serious a threat is a bottle of Jack Daniel's Hard Cola and its ilk? One California study noted that underage drinkers consume almost half the alcopops sold in that state. Health officials predict simply taxing alcopops as liquor would reduce teen consumption by more than one-third.

Maryland has some of the lowest liquor taxes in the country. And teen drinking remains a serious problem - one in 10 patients accepted in a Maryland alcohol treatment center is between the ages of 12 and 20. Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teens, and a high percentage are alcohol-involved.

If Mr. O'Malley were to veto the bill, alcopops would still be widely available. But they could be sold only in liquor stores, not convenience stores or other venues where beer and wine are sold.

A veto would also allow the state to collect $3 million more in liquor taxes, money that could be used for anti-drinking programs.

The liquor industry has great influence in Annapolis, but the health and safety of teens ought to carry some weight, too. Mr. O'Malley can demonstrate which side he's on by rejecting this wrongheaded legislation.

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