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'Alcopops' wriggling free of state tax hike

March 16, 2009 |  1:48 pm

Alcopops Anyone who’s seen 21-year-old rapper Asher Roth’s video for his current hit single, “I Love College,” and marveled at its creepy air of underage, alcohol-soaked revelry, knows that teen drinking is here to stay. The question is: Can it be managed, made safer, curbed?

Today, The Times ran a story about how the state’s efforts to crack down on attractive-to-teen beverages called “alcopops” (like Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade), by taxing them like liquor rather than beer, are fizzling out.

According to the story, the tax increase was supposed to generate $38 million in annual revenue for the state, but since it kicked in Oct. 1, only $9,000 has been collected. Why? Because beverage makers say they have reformulated their drinks “to transform them into simple beers by limiting the amount of distilled spirits they contain.”

What makes state officials anxious is that the beverage makers won’t say how they’ve reformulated the drinks, claiming the recipes are trade secrets. The story goes on to say that “some officials and activists suspect fraud.”

It’s an interesting face-off that’s being watched by business and government interests nationwide. However, no matter the final outcome, it's unlikely that taxing a beverage at a higher rate will stop teens from drinking.

Maybe they won’t reach for the Smirnoff brand, but there’s always Boone’s Farm, the candy of cheap wine. And sweet fruit juice makes Popov vodka into a palatable punch. The possibilities are endless. As with many deleterious activities, perhaps the only way to rein teens in is through education and community support.   

-- Jessica Gelt

Photo: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times