Egregious alcoholic beverage is sold in North Carolina
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Once again alcohol makers are luring young drinkers with a sweet and fruity malt liquor, this one with an ad campaign featuring popular rapper Snoop Dogg and an alcohol content high enough to earn it the nickname “binge in a can” and lead to calls for a ban.
Developed by Pabst’s Colt 45 Brewing Co., Blast contains 12 percent alcohol by volume, making its 23.5 ounce can the equivalent of 4.7 regular beers and giving it the potential to send inexperienced drinkers to the emergency room.
“It’s possible for some people — depending on body size, naiveté to alcohol — to get alcohol poisoning from one can,” Buddy Sangalli, director of the Connecticut Poison Control Center, told the media. Already attorneys general in 19 states — from Maryland to California — have written Pabst asking for the drink, introduced in April, to be taken off the market.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said North Carolinians wouldn’t have to be worried about the drink had the state not bowed to pressure from the alcohol industry to “pop the cap” on alcohol content in beer six years ago.
“These dangerous, high-octane brews wouldn’t be legal had we kept the 6 percent alcohol cap for beer in place. But since raising the limit to 15 percent in 2005, we’ve been hit with several products like this that are targeted to youth and that make it easier than ever for them to get drunker than ever faster than ever,” said the Rev. Creech. “This is another one of those situations where we hate to say ‘we told you so,’ but it’s true.”
The Christian Action League vigorously opposed the “Pop the Cap” Bill, which backers insisted was necessary for high-end, boutique, craft and specialty beers which they said would be priced too high for the average university student and therefore would not attract binge drinkers.
“We pointed out then that specialty beer sales were on the rise among youth and that the malt liquor drinks that were already wreaking havoc would be made more available by the bill,” Creech said. “Since then, we’ve seen what happened with the CABs (caffeinated alcoholic beverages such as Four Loko, which was banned), and here we go again with Blast.”
Although North Carolina’s Attorney General was not among those who signed the letter calling for the Blast ban, concern is mounting in the Tar Heel state. The N.C. ABC Commission is keeping a close eye on the national debate, and Durham community activist Paul Scott has not only called for a boycott, but issued a videotaped challenge to Snoop Dogg, whom he refers to as the new “Pabts Blue Ribbon Pimp of the Month.”
“Of all people you ought to know the damage that alcohol has done to the black community, the black and Hispanic community,” Scott said, challenging the hip-hop artist with nearly a half-dozen books that trace the history of alcohol, particularly malt liquor, and how it has affected the black community and contributed to black-on-black crime.
“When you put a Colt 45 to your mouth, you’re really putting a Colt .45 gun to your brain,” Scott said. “Think about it, it’s no accident that it uses symbolism. It’s no accident that it’s marketed to the black community.”
While Pabst insists that the beverage is meant only for those 21 and up, Scott and others say the sweet and fruity blend sold in brightly colored cans for less than $3 each is obviously being pushed on urban youth.
“Snoop Dogg … was recently on the Nickelodeon Kids Awards,” Scott told News 14 in an interview about the malt liquor that comes in a variety of flavors including grape, strawberry-watermelon and blueberry-pomegranate. “What Pabst is doing is establishing brand loyalty so the moment your child gets an opportunity to drink or an opportunity to experiment with alcohol, guess what brand they’re going to first?”
According to Agnes Stevens, Public Affairs Director of the N.C. ABC Commission, the Blast issue brings up a number of concerns, including underage drinking, binge drinking and the blurring of category lines between malt beverages and spirituous liquor.
“The example of Blast … also brings up the question of how alcohol is marketed and to whom,” Stevens said. She said that CDC data for North Carolina shows that the incidence of underage drinking is reportedly lower among African-Americans (28 percent) than the population in general (35 percent) and binge drinking is also lower among underage African-Americans (10 percent) than the general population (19 percent), but added that “the numbers are too large, no matter how you look at them.”
Studies show African Americans are the prime target for malt liquor promotions. While they comprise 12 to 14 percent of the population, they consume 30 to 33 percent of the malt liquor brewed in the United States, according to “The Cautionary Tale of Malt Liquor,” a 2005 article by Kihm Winship.
According to the April 22 issue of The Christian Science Monitor, Pabst’ marketing campaign appears to be “heavily aimed at the African-American community” because of its “heavy use of hip-hop concerts and radio stations.”
San Jose Mercury columnist and Hip Hop activist Davey D says Blast will be “on radio and all the urban magazines. They will be at all the big festivals both music and cultural…” and “definitely … within earshot of those too young to drink” as they “pull out all the stops and go for the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of folks in our community with this beverage.”
He asked the question of many in the African American community … “Why aren’t companies with more wholesome products coming at our community with all the bells and whistles? Are we really all about drinking enhanced alcohol drinks so that we stay permanently buzzed and high or are we worthy of being approached for other things?”
Davey D warns his readers, “the big boys with the mind numbing beverages are coming for you this spring. They’re coming with bright colored cans, a respected and trusted spokesperson and commitment to be everywhere you are likely to go.”
According to the Blast web site, the company is bringing its bus tour to both Charlotte and Raleigh in early July.
Jorge Castillo, Advocacy and Outreach manager at Marin Institute, told CNN it is disappointing to see Snoop Dogg and “the utilization of hip hop music to promote an alcoholic beverage that is so dangerous to youth today.”
Meanwhile, Stevens said the underage drinking issue is larger than one product and one category.
Even so, she said, “the ABC Commission has been following this issue closely, as it did with alcohol/caffeinated energy drinks and the sale of nearly pure grain alcohol, both ultimately withdrawn from the market in North Carolina last fall.”