What seems to be a relatively benign marketing activity could have negative consequences over time
Christian Action League
What might be deemed as a relatively benign marketing activity for the beer industry in North Carolina could have overtime some very negative consequences. Nevertheless, on Monday evening, the North Carolina House passed overwhelmingly (91-23) on its third reading HB 1595 – Malt Beverage Special Permit, sponsored by Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg).
The bill would authorize the ABC Commission to issue two permits: a malt beverage tasting permit that would allow malt beverage tasting events at grocery stores and other food businesses, and a malt beverage special event permit that would authorize the permittee to give free samples and to sell its products at trade shows, conventions, shopping malls, various festivals and other similar events approved by the ABC Commission. Permits would not be granted where referendums had not been approved for the sale of malt beverages.
For most lawmakers the measure seems rather innocuous, but many fail to realize that beer accounts for 67% of the alcohol consumption in the United States. It is disproportionately consumed in hazardous amounts relative to wine and spirits.  Furthermore, it accounts for over 81% of all alcohol drunk in hazardous amounts and is the beverage of choice for underage drinkers.
Only four years ago, the North General Assembly amended the definition of a Malt Beverage from 6% in alcohol volume to 15%. The purpose of that legislation, which was called the “Pop the Cap” bill, was to allow for a new market of craft and specialty brews that were at that time unable to enter the market in North Carolina because they had more than 6% alcohol. The “Pop the Cap” bill’s passage now makes it possible for beer that is 30 proof to be on convenience and grocery store shelves.
Although these beers with higher alcohol content have yet to gain a substantive market in North Carolina, there is a legitimate concern this could indeed be the means for increasing their market, if advertising like beer tasting events are allowed.
Moreover, there should be concern for Malt Liquor advertising. The higher alcohol content malt liquor products have proven study after study to be most problematic for the black and Hispanic communities. There is nothing in this bill that would prohibit Malt Liquor products from participating in a beer tasting event.
Proponents of HB 1595 argue that there are a number of small breweries in North Carolina that need this kind of advertising and the State’s wineries can already have wine tasting events. But comparing a wine tasting event and wine’s potential for producing alcohol related problems to beer and its potential for creating alcohol related problems – is like comparing apples and oranges. Beer clearly has the most potential for being problematic and its history clearly demonstrates this to be true.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League noted that since “beer is disproportionately consumed in hazardous amounts relative to wine and spirits and that beer tasting events would serve to increase the market of beer – more importantly the market of beers with higher alcohol content up to 15% or 30 proof, also including potent forms of malt liquor. The Christian Action League believes the current prohibition on such advertising would better serve the public’s health.” Rev. Creech added that though his concerns about this bill were disseminated widely throughout the House, his warnings aren’t resonating with lawmakers.
The measure now moves to the Senate.
 Rogers, J.D. Greenfield, T.K. (1999). Beer drinking accounts for more hazardous alcohol consumption reported in the United States. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 60(6).