Sep 152002
Authors: Josh Hardin

Beware of the malt beverage.

At least that’s what some people want you to believe in response to the growing popularity of a new niche market of malt beverages, called “alcopops.”

You’ve probably tasted, seen or heard of the stylish sweet drinks that can range from the fruity and fizzy Skyy Blue, to the carbonated citrus Smirnoff Ice, to the tequila-like tasting Sauza Diablo. The list also includes labels like Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Bacardi Silver, Capt. Morgan’s Gold, Jack Daniel’s Hard Cola and Coors Vibe.

The drinks offer an alternative to people who prefer a soft pop-like taste to beer or hard liquor when they drink.

While these drinks are really nothing new (Coors’ malt liquor Zima has been around since 1994), law enforcement agencies and groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving are calling the fad the next new threat to underage drinking. Dubbed as “starter suds,” these groups fear their existence is encouraging a younger generation to drink irresponsibly and alcopop advertising is tempting teens to try the booze before they’re 21.

These groups argue that these “gateway drinks” are attempting to lure in and hook young drinkers and that they should be pulled from the market or at least have their advertising regulated. A similar controversy arose in the late 80s after the invention of wine coolers.

But when was the last time you chose to buy a drink because of advertising alone? As a veteran drinker I am constantly revolted by alcohol commercials that promise you will have a great partying time, get women and somehow look like a stud if you go on drinking binge.

Experience tells me something different. It doesn’t take a genius to find out waking up in a pool of your own vomit on a cold kitchen floor next to someone who looked a lot more attractive to you with alcohol goggles on and wondering what stupid things you said to get there is what happens instead of what the television commercials of sexy blonde twins, parties that never end and less filling and great tasting drinks promised.

However, you can have fun drinking in a social scene if don’t go over the edge, use a designated driver and have some common sense.

In America our attitude toward drinking is blurry.

What we need to do is destroy the stigma among high school and college students that drinking implicitly requires you to be out of control and dangerous. There is a hidden myth in the party scene that to be a real man or woman is to drink as much as you can and still stay standing through the night. Simply breaking the tempting taboo of drinking that the anti-alcohol groups so vehemently believe in supporting is what appeals to many young people.

It’s not the existence of malt beverages (and indeed all drinks) that are the problem; it’s the way groups such as MADD are going about combating the problem that is totally wrong. There shouldn’t be penalties for the companies to make these drinks, because they have every right to. It’s like targeting gun companies for making the weapons that people use in murders and letting the criminals go free.

The answer to underage and irresponsible drinking doesn’t lie in an alcopop prohibition, or control of advertising; it is in education. The first time I got drunk was with my dad and a six-pack of Red Dog while we sat at home and watched the NBA finals. This was when I was a freshman in high school and before I had ever gone to any crazy house parties. To this day I can’t stomach another Red Dog (even though I love just about any other type of beer) and I will always remember how to know when I am becoming drunk.

Winning the war against alcohol abuse is about people knowing what their limits are and responding with responsible decisions. It isn’t about prosecuting the producers of alcopops and other drinks or the pubs that provide them.

Everyone should realize there is at least one commercial slogan regarding alcohol that has some truth to it, “think when you drink.”

Josh spent last summer studying at the Institute for Political Journalism at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in English and his column runs every Monday in the Collegian. To send comments, email:

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