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AG Plan Targets Underage Drinking

By Barry Massey
Associated Press
       SANTA FE — Attorney General Gary King proposes to ban the sale of caffeinated alcoholic drinks in New Mexico to help prevent and reduce underage drinking.
    In announcing a legislative package against underage drinking, King also called for restrictions on alcohol advertising that targets youth.
    King will ask lawmakers to approve the measures next year. The Legislature convenes in January for a 60-day session.
    Another proposal would allow all counties to levy a local liquor tax to provide money to prevent substance abuse and underage drinking. Currently, only McKinley County can impose a local tax on liquor sales.
    Voters in a county would have to approve a local tax levy, King said. Money from the taxes would help pay for programs against alcohol and substance abuse.
    King proposes to ban the sale, distribution and manufacture in New Mexico or the importing of malt beverages infused with a stimulant, including caffeine. He contends that the alcoholic drinks appeal to young people and teenagers who use highly caffeinated nonalcoholic energy drinks, such as Red Bull.
    Last month, King and other attorneys general urged MillerCoors LLC to drop the planned introduction of a new caffeinated alcoholic drink called Sparks Red.
    Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for King, said Monday that the Attorney General's Office was working on "best practice" legislation to regulate advertising of liquor and alcoholic beverages. For example, the proposal would restrict advertising of liquor on college campuses and near locations where children and young people are likely to be, including playgrounds, schools and churches.
    Other proposals by King would:
    n Make it illegal for minors to consume liquor and alcoholic drinks. That would close a loophole in state law, which currently prohibits the purchase or possession — but not the consumption — of alcohol by anyone under age 21. Sisneros said the legislation would provide for penalties, including community service. Repeat offenders, if they are old enough to drive, could have their driver's licenses suspended.
    n Impose a higher state tax on "alcopops," which are typically fruit flavored and sweetened malt beverages. King proposes to tax the drinks at a rate for distilled spirits rather that the current practice of taxing them at the lower rate for beer. California regulators have already taken such steps. The drinks include brands such as Mike's Hard Lemonade. King estimates that the higher tax rate could generate $2 million a year for programs to prevent underage drinking.
    "The point to remember is that alcohol consumption is a major contributor to the three leading causes of death among New Mexico youth: motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide," King said in a statement.


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