Dangerous Alcohol Products for Sale in Your Neighborhood Grocery Store
Healthy Alcohol Marketplace
By Pamela Erickson, Public Action Management
May 17, 2016
Imagine my surprise…190 proof alcohol products right on the shelf at my neighborhood grocery store in Arizona! 190 proof is almost pure alcohol. Most distilled spirits products are 80 proof or 40% alcohol. This product even had a warning label stating that overconsumption could endanger one’s health. What is “overconsumption” of a 95% alcohol product? Indeed, overconsumption of such products can definitely lead to problems including death!
So why do we even have such potent products in our markets? Well, according to the ABC Fine Wine and Spirits website, a high proof product “Gets you there faster. For decades, high proof alcohol has been pretty much about one thing: maximum inebriation for the buck.
Whatever happened to the idea that potent alcohol products should be sold in controlled retail environments such as “adult only” liquor stores? That was one of the regulation basics after Prohibition. It is why many states still only allow spirit products to be sold in liquor stores.
It was also part of an effort to encourage those who drink to consume light alcohol products. That is why beer- and sometimes wine- are more widely available. After Prohibition, the beer that was available was a weak alcohol product: 3.2% alcohol by volume. Today’s beer is a little more potent-around 5-6% alcohol…still a long way from 50-95% alcohol in high proof products! It appeals to common sense to be more restrictive of high proof products.
But, that system is breaking down thanks to the lobbying efforts of large national chain retailers. Today, grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, discount stores all want to sell alcohol. And, public officials are eager to appear “business-friendly.” They ignore recommendations from public health such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which recommends that limits be placed on alcohol outlets.
As for the customers of potent products, it is often our youth. Research has shown that underage youth drink for the purpose of intoxication. As CDC reports, 90% of underage alcohol consumption is in the form of binge drinking. And, since they are more price-sensitive, “maximum inebriation for the buck” is an attraction.
At the recent Alcohol Policy 17 Conference, Elyse Grossman and David Jernigan reported on efforts to ban problematic products. They cited “High Alcohol Content Grain Alcohol” as a product popular among youth. In a survey of 4,209 Maryland college students, 10.6% of high risk drinkers and 22% of very high risk drinkers reported consuming these products.
While we have made major progress on reducing underage drinking, it still kills 4,300 youth per year and contributes to a plethora of problems including unwanted pregnancies and academic failure. We must do all we can to ensure the potential of our youth.
So what can be done? In 17 states and some local municipalities, liquor stores are publicly owned or operated through contracts. The state or local jurisdiction could simply refuse to carry high proof products. These jurisdictions could also develop special provisions to purchase such products. Prior to deregulation by a Costco-sponsored ballot measure, Washington State required a special permit for high proof products; and, the products were not displayed in stores. In other states a new law or administrative rule may be required to ban the sale of high proof products or require a special permit. Meanwhile, a customer could ask the retailer to simply not carry the products as a gesture to local public health and safety. I am writing a letter to the headquarters of my neighborhood grocery.
For more information, see www.healthyalcoholmarket.com or Contact Pam Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org