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2019 CAPA Summit Wrapup: From Local Power to Statewide Clout

CAPA recognized some local heroes in 2019On Thursday, November 7, the approximately 150 attendees of the 4th Annual California Alcohol Policy Alliance (CAPA) Summit were confronted with two stark facts: advocates for a healthier California face daunting challenges, and in the face of those challenges, they can achieve remarkable victories. The Summit marked the end of a long and difficult legislative session, highlighted State Sen. Scott Wiener's seemingly unstoppable bill to extend bar closing hours suddenly killed on the assembly floor, in no small part due to local pressure applied by the coordinated efforts of CAPA. Membership celebrated that victory, but with that celebration came the realization that there were many more fights ahead.

In recognition of the emerging power of a united CAPA voice, the Summit theme was "Building a Movement." The event opened with a recognition of individuals who were integral to that building effort. First, CAPA issued an award to Los Angeles City Council Member Paul Koretz, his Communication Director Alison Simard, and his Director of Policy and Legislation Jeffrey Ebenstein. Councilmember Koretz was an early and vocal opponent of extended last calls, even as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti endorsed the bill. With Koretz and his staff's willingness to stand up against the blatant harms threatened by the bill, backed by the voices of Los Angeles residents and the members of CAPA, the Los Angeles city council issued a resolution condemning the bill, leading to its defeat on the California State Assembly floor.

CAPA was also proud to commemorate the vital public health and safety contributions from California Assembly Member Tom Lackey; Los Angeles City Council Member Paul Krekorian; Community Promotora Mirian Castro, and CAPA Co-Chair Richard Zaldivar.

necklaces hand made by oglala artisans to commemorate victories in alcohol preventionThe awards took the form of Wakinyan Thunder necklaces, handmade and individualized pieces by Oglala Lakota artists and activists Kathryn Thunder Hawk and Robert Swimmer. "The necklaces were made with good energy, with good thoughts, and blessings," presenter Veronica de Lara, CAPA co-chair, explained. "Each piece is meaningful in Lakota culture and they provide strength and fortitute to those in a path of service to all."

Between rounds of awards, attendees broke out into special topic sessions, including:
  • Social Justice Movements
  • Community Engagement
  • Authentically Integrating Voices of the LGBTQ+ Community
  • Proactive Legislation

"I'm proud of what CAPA accomplished this year," said Mayra Jiménez, Advocacy Manager for CAPA. "But alcohol is not a simple problem. It attacks the most vulnerable, and the industry is so committed to hiding the harm. We need to make sure everybody's voice is heard loudly in this fight."

The session concluded with a special presentation from California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).  The session was intended to both make the workings of ABC transparent and to provide a venue for dialogue between the community and the department. Following a presentation on ABC operations and pending legislation--including the implementation of AB 1221, which mandates responsible beverage service training for all California bars and restaurants--ABC Director Jacob Appelsmith stood for a lively Q&A session. Copies of the ABC presentation are available on the CAPA website.

The Summit closed with a reiteration of the goals and challenges facing CAPA and everyone working in the harm prevention space. Attendees were left to think about what they could accomplish in 2020. Hopefully, the answer was, in part, "More than we thought we could this morning."

WATCH Councilmember Krekorian's speech from the 2019 CAPA Summit.

New Hard Seltzer and the Big Old Lie

white claws certainly have no tax lawsNo beverage product has received more publicity over the past year than hard seltzers. These colorless carbonated alcoholic drinks often come with the same faint fruit flavors of La Criox. Hard seltzer brands such as White Claw, Bon & Viv, and Truly advertise their low calories, lack of gluten, and inclusion of fruit. It's nice to think that consumers, jaded on the repeated, deceptive, manipulative, and sometimes overtly corrupt efforts to connect alcohol to health, are immune to the "healthy drinking" scam. But hard seltzers are one of the most rapidly growing product groups in the industry. According to Vox.com, their current market share is estimated at $550 million, and at least one forecaster has that growing to as much as $2.5 billion by 2021.

The rise of hard seltzers are the dark side of a hopeful trend: younger generations may be less likely to use alcohol than their forerunners. It is unclear whether this decline comes from the economic hardships Milennials and "Gen Z" face, from the rise of legal cannabis, from effective prevention campaigns, or from shifting trends. What is clear is that Big Alcohol is concerned, and hard seltzers are what they hope to be the magic bullet. Speaking the Brewbound (subscription required), Molson Coors confirmed that their new hard seltzer, Vizzy, is targeted directly at the 21 to 34-year-old market. Ultimately, hard seltzers are just another incarnation of flavored malt beverages--cheap, easy-to-drink alcohol that carries significant appeal to novice drinkers, especially those underage.

Needless to say, the marketing surrounding hard seltzer is an overt, if well-worn, lie. Alcohol use alone carries health risks. Even low levels of drinking can leave a consumer vulnerable to cancers and certain cardiovascular diseases. As consumption rises, organ damage, accidental injury, motor vehicle crashes, violence, and self-harm become significant risks as well. Alcohol dehydrates, may slow muscle recovery, and interferes with metabolism--never mind the hangover (and potential for long-term mental decline). This is part of why this same lie needs to be constantly repackaged for new generations.

As the old lies recur, so do the old bad actors. FourLoko, a manufacturer notorious for selling products in such large containers and at such high concentration that a single can becomes the equivalent of binge drinking, has introduced its own line of 12% ABV seltzers in 22 oz. cans. This is the equivalent of 5 White Claws, which, at 5%, are already towards the higher end of canned alcohols. Multiple bars, meanwhile, use the seltzers as a base to build mix drinks.

And with bad actors come bad laws. In 2019, Big Alcohol successfully conned the California legislature into placing its products in the same tax class as beer, which is already the least taxed of all alcoholic products. This comes despite the fact that their production often bears more in common with hard liquors than Bud Light (and at 12%, FourLoko's product is stronger than many wines).

"These companies are making potentially high-potency, nearly flavorless alcoholic beverages, and paying back peanuts," said Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director for Alcohol Justice. "We need tax rates to reflect the real harm. When you get around 6 or 7%, you're already selling more than single serving of alcohol, especially in big cans. We need to get rid of this loophole and get a Charge for Harm tax system in place, starting today."

Already, backlash is in place. Writing for Eater.com, Jaya Saxena points out that "positioning alcohol as a tool to build a better, cleaner body is just the flip side of positioning it as a cool potion necessary for any adult party—either narrative makes it harder to have a healthy relationship with it." The alcohol harm prevention world needs to be taking a long, hard look at these products, and speaking loud against the healthy drinking myth. Fighting the hype is the only healthy choice.

READ MORE about the exploitive myths of healthy drinking.

READ MORE about the alcohol industry's efforts to corrupt NIAAA.

READ MORE about Charge for Harm in California.

Reckless Late Night Bar Bill Fails Again

We have STOPPED the 3 a.m. nee 4 a.m. bar bill!In a resounding victory for prevention, SB 58, the 3 a.m. (nee 4 a.m.) bar bill was decisively voted down by the California State Assembly. The vote puts punctuation on a tumultuous fight by local health and safety advocates against a powerful state coalition of big nightlife concerns, centered around State Senator Scott Wiener. SB 58 marked the third time one of Sen. Wiener's bills extending last call failed. In 2017, the bill was turned into a study on the feasibility of extended bar hours, then pulled by its author. In 2018, a modified version of the bill was vetoed by then Governor Jerry Brown. This year, the bill was rejected on the Assembly floor. It remains to be seen if Sen. Wiener will bring it back in 2020.

"It was a powerful sign that this bill failed a simple Assembly vote," said Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director of Alcohol Justice. "This wasn't just the action of one powerful politician. It was legislators speaking up for their constituents en masse."

The failure for SB 58 was helped along by a resolution from the Los Angeles City Council rejecting late last call times. This extraordinary gesture occurred flew in the face of the text of the bill, which specifically targeted Los Angeles for extended hours, and Mayor Eric Garcetti, who supported the bill. Shortly after the resolution passed, the bill was modified to shorten the extended hours from 4 a.m. to 3 a.m. But in light of the local opposition, even that proved insufficient to save the bill. 

Mayra Jiménez, Advocacy Manager for Alcohol Justice, credited community groups, including members of the California Alcohol Policy Alliance, for spurring the City Council on. "The place was packed with advocates and allies," she said. "There were so many passionate people there to make their voices heard, and the councilmembers listened."

Concerns around extended last call times included greater risks of DUI, violence, crime, and injury. In July, the Berkeley-based Alcohol Research Group released a study examining the real costs of late-night alcohol service in Los Angeles. Its most conservative estimate showed over $50 million in annual costs from additional service. Over 5 years, the estimated net costs ranged from $266 million to over $1 billion.

Sen. Wiener has not yet expressed an intention to bring the bill back yet again in the coming legislative year. Despite the irregularities around reintroducing failed bills, he has brought his bar bill back on back-to-back-to-back years. If it comes to a fourth fight, however, the research, advocacy, and prevention community has no intention of going home early.

WATCH the video of the decisive vote--did your representative stand against alcohol harm?

READ MORE about the harms that come with extended bar hours.

READ MORE about the costs to Los Angeles from late last calls.

READ MORE about the ongoing fight for late night.