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Alcohol Industry Watchdog Challenges Diageo: Don't Pass the Buck; Add Criminal Charges for CEOs Who Entice Youth to Drink Alcopops

Contact: Michael Scippa, 415-548-0492 cell; Pete Ratajczak, 415-257-2488; both for the Marin Institute


SAN RAFAEL, Calif., April 24 /Standard Newswire/ -- Diageo, maker of Smirnoff Ice, the top-selling "alcopop," has been publicly goading Marin Institute, the alcohol industry watchdog, to endorse California's AB 1658. The bill, introduced by Assembly member Sharon Runner, would increase penalties for adults who provide alcohol to a minor from community service to imprisonment. The bill also increases penalties for youth caught in possession or attempting to purchase alcoholic beverages. Marin Institute calls on Diageo to demonstrate its avowed commitment to the prevention of underage drinking by asking the bill's author to add criminal penalties for corporations and CEOs that contribute to underage drinking by marketing alcohol products that blur the distinctions between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.


We also call on Diageo to support AB 346, introduced by Lori Saldana and Jim Beall, which will be heard by Assembly Government Operations Committee on Wednesday, April 25, 2007. AB 346 is a legislative response to the flood of new alcohol products that simultaneously confuse consumers and promote underage drinking. Packaged to look like everything from Juice Squeezes to energy drinks to Jello cups, the packaging for these products misleads both adults and youth who often think "alcopops" are either non-alcoholic or significantly lighter in alcohol content than beer. Law enforcement, health professionals, parents, youth leaders, and their adult mentors have been raising a red flag about these sweet, bubbly, often fruit-flavored and caffeine-laced drinks for some time. AB 346 would address this problem by requiring additional labeling, making it clear these products contain alcohol. Consistent with its zero tolerance for underage drinking, Diageo, maker of the top-selling alcopop, Smirnoff Ice, should endorse AB 346.


Diageo in their press release suggested, "Diageo strongly endorses zero tolerance when it comes to this important issue."


Bruce Livingston, Executive Director of Marin Institute, says, "Marin Institute demands zero tolerance for corporate activity that markets to youth and produces alcohol products designed to hook youth, like Smirnoff Ice."


Anheuser-Busch also recently started marketing Spykes, intended to be another alcopop they want taxed like beer. However, with sweeteners and at 12 percent alcohol content, Spykes is meant to hook youth.


Diageo is employing a classic industry tactic when faced with a policy change that might cut into its profits - it tries to blame someone else for the problem. Underage drinking already places a $7 billion burden on California.


Livingston adds, "It would be easier, cheaper, and more effective for California to incarcerate the CEO of Diageo for enticing teens to drink with candy-flavored, alcoholic soda pop than it would be to punish adults and youth who fall for the industry's deceitful 'alcopop' marketing."