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Calif. moves to raise taxes on ‘alcopops’

SACRAMENTO Calif. California regulators have voted to raise the taxes levied on flavored alcoholic beverages, sometimes known as “alcopops.” The increase had been sought by advocacy groups that contend the drinks often are consumed by underage consumers and that their popularity lures youngsters to start drinking.

Following the lead of Maine, the California Board of Equalization decided Tuesday to tax brands such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Zima as distilled spirits rather than beer, which has a lower tax rate.

Implementation, however, is yet to be determined and public hearings will be scheduled.

As approved, the tax on the flavored alcoholic beverages will increase from 20 cents per gallon to $3.30 per gallon, starting in July 2008, if the board can get the rules in place by then. The board acknowledged pressure from youth and watchdog groups that argued the drinks are marketed to appeal to young adults.

Opponents of the tax contend the drinks have the same alcohol content as beer and wine and that young drinkers concerned about the higher price would simply switch. An attorney for some beverage producers said a lawsuit to block the tax change is being considered.

Others contended the state legislature would have to decide whether the Board of Equalization has jurisdiction over the drinks, rather than the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which classifies such beverages as beer.

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