Novato, California, this week begins its first month as an “Alcopop-Free Zone,” an approach city officials hope will curb underage drinking. Novato became only the third municipality in the nation to create the zone, in which the city’s retailers are encouraged to voluntarily pull the sweet-tasting but not-for-kids beverages from the shelves. Novato is approximately the size of Cicero, Downers Grove or Naperville and has, like those three cities, been challenged with a rise in underage drinking.
An Alcopop-Free Zone is declared by resolution and does not have the force of law, but usually carries the support of retailers looking to stay in good stead in the community. Michael Scippa of Alcohol Justice told rootshed.com, “Responsible retailers are responding. The availability of alcopops is beginning to diminish.”
Alcopops are malt beverages to which various fruit juices or other flavorings have been added… canned or bottled drinks containing wine to which ingredients such as fruit juice or other flavorings have been added (formerly called wine coolers 22 years ago when the first alcopops were introduced)… or beverages containing distilled alcohol and flavorings. Think names like Sparxx, Jeremiah Weed, Four Loco, Tilt, Blast and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, among more than two dozen other brands. They can pack a whallop, too. A 23.5 ounce can of Four Loko is 12 percent alcohol: Drinking one can of Four Loko is akin to three or four cans of beer.
Community groups, including Alcohol Justice, see them as targeted toward teens because of their price, their cans resembling energy drinks and the taste of the product, which is unexpectedly sweet. Ten years ago, alcohol companies were relieved when a Fair Trade Commission report with the Center for Science in the Public Interest concluded there was no evidence of targeting underage consumers in the marketing of the products.
Alcoholism professionals know “environmental strategies” such as limiting alcohol availability also help reduce alcohol abuse or the disease of alcoholism, especially among minors, but do little to eliminate alcohol problems. Harold D. Holder, Ph.D., of the Prevention Research Center, Berkeley, California, and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation says in a Nov.23 rootshed.com article, “While education and public awareness campaigns alone are unlikely to prove effective in reducing the rate of alcohol-related injury and death, a combination of those programs with some of the environmental strategies is mutually reinforcing and thus can be successful.”
One in four U.S. teens have consumed alcohol in the last 30 days. According to U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) Administrator Pamela S. Hyde in a Nov. 26 rootshed.com story, “There is no single age group of people more affected by alcohol and drugs than young people. In some ways it feels like it is an issue everywhere: for you, your family and your friends. Plain and simple, try as you might, you cannot escape the issues of alcohol and drugs.”
Scippa says, “It is a slow process to be sure, but community education on the issue is an enduring benefit as both youth and adults work together to reduce the danger and the harm that these beverages cause to our most vulnerable members.”