State panel to rule on "alcopops" today

The price may soon be going up on alcoholic drinks like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice. A state panel will decide today on whether to hike the tax on so-called alcopops, making them distilled spirits instead of beer. Diane Riibe, executive director of Project Extra Mile, is leading the effort. 
Riibe says: “We’re asking the Liquor Control Commission to classify alcopops, or flavored alcoholic beverages, as state law now requires and that is as a distilled spirit as opposed to a beer. This would keep those out of the hands of kids, it would increase price as well as keep them out of certain locations.”

While the drinking age is 21, she says studies have found that as much as 22-percent of all alcohol sold in Nebraska ends up in the hands of underage drinkers. Riibe says: “We know that kids are really price-sensitive, so the tax issue is important. The distilled spirits tax rate is 12 times higher than beer but the bottom line is, Nebraska law requires any product that has distilled spirit in it be classified as a distilled spirit.” She says it’s not about asking the commission to do something new, rather, to follow the current law.
Riibe (pronounced REE-bee) says in-depth research shows alcopops are marketed toward children. They’re sweet and fruity, she says, a “starter drink” that aims to create a future customer base of drinkers. She says powerful companies are behind the state panel’s apparent inconsistency on the classification of alcopops. “It is, quite frankly, a matter of the Liquor Control Commission ignoring the law,” Riibe says, “Project Extra Mile, a couple of years ago, sued the commission to demand that they abide by the law. They have ignored it for a number of years at the behest of the alcohol industry.”
That suit was directed back to the district court in December of 2007, which is what today’s meeting is all about. It’s set to begin at 10 AM in the state capitol building.