The alcoholic drink of choice for underage teens – especially girls – is deceptively appealing, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). More teen girls than boys report drinking alcohol and at higher amounts; the points to the popularity of so called ‘girlie drinks’ or Alcopops as a major force behind the change.
Alcopops (also called clear malts, flavored malt beverages, Cheerleader beer, malternatives, ‘RTDs’ – Ready To Drink, or ‘FABs’ – Flavored Alcoholic Beverages), are fruit-flavored, malt-based drinks that come in colorful, child-oriented packaging. The sweetness and flavoring hide the taste of alcohol and most people who are aware of alcopops mistakenly believe they aren’t as strong as other forms of alcohol. Actually, a 12-ounce alcopop, a 12-ounce mug of beer, a cocktail with 1.5 ounces of spirits, and a 5-ounce glass of wine have the same amount of alcohol (from 5-7%) and cause the same effects.
The industry has successfully managed to have alcopops grouped with beer instead of liquor. That opens the door to easier advertising – the liquor industry is able to use television to place its logos, colors, and brand names in front of millions of viewers, including teens. (Update: March 2, 2012: The Nebraska Supreme Court unanimously confirmed alcopops as distilled spirits in a landmark ruling.)
The AMA released results from two nationwide polls revealing the extent of underage consumption and marketing exposure to alcopops or so-called “girlie drinks.” The AMA is worried that hard-liquor brands are using these sweet-flavored malt beverages as “gateway” beverages to attract less-experienced drinkers. “We’re alarmed and concerned with these findings,” said J. Edward Hill, past president of the AMA. “The percentage of girls who drink is on the rise faster than boys, and the average age of their first drink is now 13. These troubling trends make the aggressive marketing of so-called alcopops even more dangerous.”
The lure of alcopops leads to further trouble as people mature. In fact, with cool colors and names to match – Twisted Tea, Doc Otis Hard Lemon, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Rick’s Spiked Mandarin Lime, Smirnoff Ice, Skyy Blue, Captain Morgan Gold, Stolichnaya Citrona, and Bacardi Silver – alcopops are a soft entry to the hard world of alcohol. Teens and young adults who drink alcopops may turn to the malt beverage “big brothers” – Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Stoli, and Bacardi – as adults.
The most important thing for parents to remember is simply this: Alcopop drinks are alcoholic drinks, and teens who drink them face the same problems as teens who drink beer, whiskey or wine, including alcoholism, liver disease (hepatitis, cirrhosis), cardiac problems and brain impairment. Discuss the issue with your children, examine the ads and commercials promoting alcopops and then make a pitcher of real lemonade to share on hot summer afternoon. It’s well worth the effort.
- Starter Drink: 76.7% of 8th grade drinkers reported consuming alcopops in the last 30 days.
- One-third of teen girls report having tried alcopops. (Source: American Medical Association, 2004)
- Advertising expenditures on cable television increased 91% from 2001 to 2006. (Source: Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) 2008)
- Youth saw 33% more magazine advertising for alcopops per capita than adults age 21 and over in 2004.
- A recent phone survey of 2,699 youth ages 16 to 20 about their alcohol use and favorite brands revealed the most commonly chosen favorite among underage females was Smirnoff and for underage males, Budweiser.
- Smirnoff was overall the most popular brand of alcohol for adolescent drinkers surveyed. (Source: Journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2011)
New Study Documents that Joe Camel-like Tactics to Transform Youth Drinking Behavior “Having succeeded in convincing regulators to allow the new beer classifi cation, Diageo gained the regulatory advantages associated with beer when it introduced Smirnoff Ice in 2001. It embarked on an ambitious marketing campaign that combined youth-oriented advertising, placement in youth-oriented media outlets, and a new product design that catered to youthful tastes. Smirnoff Ice and other alcopops became popular among young people, particularly girls, transforming Smirnoff from a dated and stodgy brand to a youthful, hip drink.” (American Journal of Public Health, January 2012)
Dispelling the Myths
Myth 1: Alcopops have similar alcohol by volume as beer and, thus, should be classified as beer.
Wrong: No matter the alcohol per volume, alcopops contain distilled spirits derived by
Myth 2: Federal guidelines mandate each state classify alcopops as beer.
Wrong: In announcing the federal standard, the January 2005 Federal Register, Vol. 70,
No. 1, states that “it is up to the States to decide whether they want to follow Federal standards or not.” The federal standard serves merely as a guideline for
states that lack a clear law.
Myth 3: The majority of states currently follow the federal standard.
Wrong: 25 states have laws where alcopops should be classified as distilled spirits; however, their laws are currently being ignored, according to the Marin Institute, an industry watchdog. Many have already taken positive action to address the taxation, labeling and availability of alcopops.