Distiller disputes argument that ‘nips’ are behind increase in drunken driving

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Drunken-driving convictions are on the rise in Maine at the same time sales of miniature liquor bottles are skyrocketing, but the LePage administration and a major distiller disagree about whether the so-called nips are responsible for the increase in OUIs.The issue is central to a debate about banning the sale of nips in Maine, which could affect jobs at a Lewiston bottling plant and cost the state tens of millions of dollars in revenue in years to come.A ban on the sale of 50-milliliter liquor bottles in Maine could affect jobs at a Lewiston bottling plant and cost the state tens of millions of dollars in revenue in years to come. Staff photo by Michele McDonaldRELATED HEADLINESGov. LePage forges ahead with bid to stop lucrative sales of ‘nips’ liquor bottlesLewiston liquor bottler says ending nips sales would have ‘drastic impact’ on companyAfter a few misses, LePage nails argument against nips Search photos available for purchase: Photo Store →Lawmakers last month overrode the governor’s veto of a bill that requires retailers to collect a 5-cent deposit on every 50-milliliter bottle beginning in 2019. Supporters argued that adding nips to Maine’s “bottle bill” would help reduce roadside litter.LePage originally opposed the bill because he said it would hurt businesses and state finances, and he now argues it does not do enough to discourage drivers from drinking behind the wheel. He has asked the state Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to formally begin the process of “delisting,” or removing, nips in Maine.In June, the bureau’s director filed a recommendation in support of delisting with the State Liquor and Lottery Commission, drawing a connection between the small liquor bottles and drunken driving. The number of convictions for operating under the influence decreased 38 percent from 2006 to 2014, but convictions have risen in the past two years, according to the state. At the same time, sales of nips have been growing by as much as 40 percent annually.That combination of trends, along with complaints about empty bottles on roadsides, proves nips are enabling people to drink and drive, the administration says.Sazerac Co., which makes Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, operates a bottling and finishing plant in Lewiston. In a July 3 filing with the liquor commission, an attorney for Sazerac said more evidence is needed to link nips and drinking behind the wheel.“The (beverages and lottery) bureau’s rush to judgment tells us nothing about whether there is a correlation between the sale of (50-milliliter) spirits and the increase in OUI convictions, and its failure to procure any support for its conclusion from law enforcement is telling,” the filing reads.SEEKING CORRELATION IN NUMBERSNips sales in Maine topped 8 million bottles in 2016. The most popular brand was Fireball, which represented more than 40 percent of all nips sales in Maine in the last fiscal year. Nips account for only 6.6 percent of the beverages and lottery bureau’s profits from spirits in the past year, but sales of the 50-milliliter bottlers are growing at a faster pace than any other liquor product.However, legislators said complaints about the number of small liquor bottles along roadsides led to the passage of L.D. 56, which established the nickel deposit.In his veto letter, LePage said the bill does not address the issue of people drinking nips while driving and then tossing them out the car window.“Absent increased penalties, which this bill failed to impose, an alternative approach is to discontinue the sale of (50-milliliter) bottles containing alcohol altogether,” LePage wrote. “If this bill passes, I have directed the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to work with the Liquor and Lottery Commission to delist these products for sale in Maine.”Gregory Mineo, the bureau’s director, filed his recommendation to that effect with the commission June 23.Mineo said convictions for liquor OUIs had been declining annually – from 5,548 convictions in 2006 to 3,462 in 2014. However, those numbers have trended upward since then. There were 3,539 convictions in 2015 and 3,735 in 2016 – roughly an 8 percent increase over two years.At the same time, nips sales have been rising steadily. In 2007, the number of 50-milliliter bottles sold statewide was 511,331. In 2014, the year before liquor OUI convictions began to increase again, 3.5 million nips were sold. That number grew to 5.5 million in 2015 and 8.4 million in 2016, representing a 142 percent jump over two years. This year, sales are expected to reach 12 million.Advertisement“It is self-evident that discarded containers along roadsides come from occupants of vehicles,” Mineo

Source: Distiller disputes LePage’s argument that ‘nips’ are behind increase in drunken driving – Portland Press Herald

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