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Bill would require separation of co-branded beverages in effort to reduce underage drinking

LANSING -- A bill in the Michigan Senate would require retailers to better separate alcoholic beverages and their non-alcoholic counterparts. Supporters say the change would deter against underage drinking and ensure consumers have full knowledge of what they’re purchasing.

The legislation would apply to co-branded beverages — alcoholic versions of pre-existing brands like Coke, Sunny D or AriZona Iced Tea.

“There have been reported instances where these products have been placed next to the non-alcoholic version and even next to items for children, creating potential confusion for both consumers and retail establishments,” said Sen. Dayne Polehanki, a sponsor of the legislation.

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The would also not be allowed next to products like snacks or juices with cartoon characters or other imagery meant to appeal to kids.

For businesses smaller than 2500 square feet, retailers could place the beverages next to otherwise prohibited products if they display a sign clearly stating that the drinks are alcoholic.

“These bills were introduced at the request of the industry to tighten up restrictions on selling and marketing alcohol to our youth,” said Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren.

Similar regulations were instituted in Illinois after some retailers were seen displaying alcoholic drinks next to their non-alcoholic counterparts, in some cases outside of liquor sections and next to snack foods or other youth-oriented items.

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“Unfortunately, in other states, we’ve seen some very concerning marketing and placement activities, specifically, placement right next to the non-alc version of the product,” said Brett Visner of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association. “And even next to matchbox cars in a display, which obviously is frankly despicable that that would take place.”

Supporters say that the problem isn’t yet widespread in Michigan — but as the introduction of co-branded beverages has picked up in recent years, advocates say the state should be proactive in addressing possible future challenges.

Some shared concerns with the bill, saying it may complicate business for small and mid-size retailers.

“So if you’re telling me I can’t put the Kendall Jackson chardonnay, or the Busch Light, anywhere near the chips that have that have a kid’s figure on it. Now I got a real problem with that in a small store,” said Sen. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe. “You’re gonna hamstring people. I do know there’s dirty actors out there. I know that. And it’s a very small percentage, but this would be tough for someone like me, who follows the rules to do it correctly.”

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Sponsors of the bill said that language detailing the specific placements of products would be resolved in a future draft.

The plan has support from Democratic and Republican senators. The plan hasn’t yet moved out of committee, but could be advanced later this year.

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