December 12, 2017  Last Update: November 27, 2017, 8:52 pm

In Nebraska, Alcopops are Now Hard Liquor

Alcopops are all the rage, and beverage manufacturers and distributors are cashing on the huge market demand for seemingly-not-hard-liquor party drinks they call "malternatives".

Alcopops, those sweet, fruity, colorful and typically high-alcohol content “malternative drinks”  made a huge splash when they first arrived on shelves at local mini-marts and grocery stores around the world. And the waves of new colorful brands continues as the market heats up.  The big question few are asking: are alcopops beer, or hard liquor?

In 2006, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission classified alcopops as beer. In 2009, a mother and three Nebraska groups against underage drinking filed a lawsuit, challenging the status. Now the Nebraska Supreme Court says alcopops should be classified (and taxed) as hard liquor. The Supreme Court thinks the Liquor Control Commission exceeded its authority with the original classification of alcopops as beer.

Now, Nebraska can tax malt beverages like Four Loko and Lime-A-Rita at $3.75 per gallon, instead of the 31-cent-per-gallon beer tax. If the tax is not reversed, the state could make an additional $2 to $3 million annually, one group’s attorney told a CBS reporter.

Some lawmakers already scheduled to debate a bill that would completely reverse the ruling, allowing alcopops to be taxed as beer again, presumably backed by commercial interests. Critics of alcopop marketing claim the sweet, fruity beverages are aimed at young customers. Under this ruling, the beverages would be less accessible to underage drinkers, more expensive, and face tighter advertising regulations. Critics claim the higher taxes and tougher regulations will help curb underage drinking.

Australia enacted a similar alcopop tax in 2008, but a University of Queensland research team found the tax did not target the key issue of underaged drinking:

“Based on findings from this region, changes in taxation of  alcopops did not decrease alcohol-related emergency department presentations,” said Steve Kisely, lead researcher and professor at UQ. “Targeting specific drinks is no substitute for a comprehensive approach to tackling binge drinking in young people.”

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In Nebraska, alcopops are now "Hard Liquor" and heavily taxed
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