Why Alcohol is No Ordinary Commodity
Source: Public Action Management
By Pamela S. Erickson
June 8, 2022
Periodically we need to be reminded about alcohol and why it’s not just an ordinary commodity. There’s a lot of talk about expanding the availability of alcohol because it’s a “legal product.” And, grocery and convenience stores increasingly treat alcohol as just another product. There is a whole new array of alcohol products such as hard seltzers and canned cocktails. These products have been promoted heavily and touted as a good “summer drink.”
Here’s an example. I had just checked out at a local big box store when I almost ran into this display:
I was very surprised as I knew the store had a liquor license, but such products were always confined to the alcohol aisle in the grocery section. I saw that this was a “hard seltzer” which came in four flavors and was made with “real vodka”. The display was obviously designed to catch the eye of people who hadn’t been to the “alcohol section,” which often includes underage youth.
It turns out that there are an increasing number of these products made by soft drink companies in collaboration with an alcohol company. Coca Cola works with Molson Coors to make its Topo Chico brand hard seltzers. High Noon is actually made by E. & J. Gallo. A recent example of collaboration is Pepsi’s work with the Boston Beer Company to make “Hard Mountain Dew.” They are test-marketing it in six states: Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Often, the product is merchandised with the original, non-alcoholic product.such as this “end cap.”
It is unclear whether these manufacturers are paying for these displays which they often do for sodas. It seems likely that retailers are not very familiar with “trade practice regulations” since they are primarily regulated at the state level. But there are both federal and state trade practice regulations designed to maintain independence of the three tiers of the alcohol industry. So, there could be some overlooked violations.
These products gained a warning by a Los Angeles TV station which noted that spiked seltzers and canned cocktails increased sales in the last two years. They warned, “If you’re going to keep such products in your home, make sure they’re inaccessible to kids – and those young ones know that this lemonade, and that lemonade, may be very different.”
So, let’s review why alcohol should not be sold like an ordinary commodity.
1. Alcohol causes a lot of deaths, injuries and health problems. These include chronic conditions (such as heart problems, liver disease and cancer) and immediate health impacts such as injuries, poisonings and poor pregnancy outcomes. The CDC now estimates that alcohol is associated with 140,000 deaths per year.
2. People who commit crimes are often under the influence of alcohol and too often mix alcohol and other drugs.
3. While underage drinking has gone down and is at historically low levels, it is still unacceptably high.
4. Addiction adversely impacts many families and relationships.
5. Alcohol costs society a lot of money: It cost the US an estimated $249 billion in 2010. Think about the costs for law enforcement, prevention and public health.
What you can do:
1. Review the CDC fact sheet, “Excessive Alcohol Use.”
2. If you choose to drink, be sure to follow the CDC guidelines for moderate consumption. This includes knowing how moderate consumption is defined and how to measure drinks.
3. If you have children and alcohol in your house, find a way to secure the alcohol and talk to your kids about why it’s not safe for kids to drink. Also consider storing less alcohol in your house.
4. Support community efforts to use proven strategies to reduce alcohol problems. Again, these strategies are detailed on the CDC website.