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Bill aims to curb underage drinking by limiting malt beverage access

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Cans of Four Loko are seen on display at a liquor store in Palo Alto, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) Cans of Four Loko are seen on display at a liquor store in Palo Alto, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday aimed at reducing underage drinking by limiting accessibility to flavored malt beverages.

House Bill 782, entitled the "Fortified Malt Beverages Act," aims to make it unlawful to sell "fortified malt beverage" outside of Alcohol Beverage Control stores across the state.

[LINK] House Bill 782

The bill defines a "fortified malt beverage" as a beverage containing at least nine percent but no more than 15 percent alcohol. The beverage but also contain "an added flavor containing alcohol or any other ingredient containing alcohol.

Fortified malt beverages, the bill says, are "treated by processing, filtration, or another method of manufacture that is not generally recognized as a traditional process in the production of a beer."

House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) introduced the bill to limit the availability of flavored alcoholic beverages like Four Loko, Joose and Blast.

"These products, which contain spirituous flavorings and sugar, are reported to taste more like a soda pop than beer and are heavily marketed toward and highly attractive to young people," Wanda Boone, founder of Together for Resilient Youth, said in a statement.

Dylan Mulrooney-Jones, with the North Carolina Alcohol Policy Alliance, added, "Existing flavored alcohol beverages are more popular than beer among teenage girls and represent over 16 percent of the youth alcohol market."

Boone said convenience stores or grocery stores are the second most common places where underage youth attain alcoholic beverages. The number one place is from a parent's or friend's home.

"Moving high risk alcoholic drinks places these beverages in a more controlled environment," Boone said.

The bill passed its first reading Thursday and was referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House.

ABC Commission Chairman Jim Gardner says underage drinking costs North Carolina residents more than $1 billion annually.

"More importantly, it often leads to tragic traffic fatalities and injuries, as well as long-term damage to kids' health," Gardner said.

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