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Non-alcoholic adult beverages should have an age limit too, some researchers say

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The market is booming for beer, wine and cocktails containing virtually no alcohol. Adult nonalcoholic beverages are marketed as a way to drink less, avoid a hangover. But some believe these products should still have an age limit. Well, NPR's Pien Huang wanted to know why.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Darryl Collins owns the Zero-Proof Bottle Shop in Baltimore, Md.

DARRYL COLLINS: Everything in the shop is nonalcoholic - over 200 options of non-alcoholic spirits, beer, wine and can cocktails.

HUANG: Adult nonalcoholic beverages contain less than 0.5% alcohol by volume. That means they could largely be sold to anyone anywhere. But Collins as a rule.

COLLINS: OK. So I do not sell - no one in my store sells to anyone below the age of 18.

HUANG: Seriously, they card. Collins set his own limit, and he's free to set it however he wants, because in Maryland, as in the majority of states, there are no age restrictions on who can buy adult nonalcoholic beverages.

COLLINS: So when there's no minimum age, you know, can a 9-year-old come in your store and buy a nonalcoholic Corona, you know (laughter)?

HUANG: Molly Bowdring, a researcher at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, thinks there should be official age limits spelled out by regulators. She co-authored an opinion piece published today in JAMA Pediatrics calling for that.

MOLLY BOWDRING: I think there is a risk that these could be an entry product for alcohol use. There are so many cues in nonalcoholic beverages that mirror the alcoholic counterpart.

HUANG: Cues like how they taste and smell, and the cultural experience of sipping from a coozied beer can or a fancy glass. The market for these beverages has grown steadily and got a big boost during the pandemic. There's no evidence that it's led kids in the U.S. to drink, but Bowdring argues there should be laws in place to get ahead of that.

BOWDRING: If we leave the door open to there being a marketing push for nonalcoholic beverage use among kids, could that then lead to increased alcohol use among this generation? And we don't want to wait to find out if that's going to happen.

HUANG: Marcos Salazar, head of the Adult Non-Alcoholic Beverage Association, an industry trade group, agrees that kids should not be drinking these products, but he doesn't think government needs to get involved.

MARCOS SALAZAR: We don't want any regulation that's going to have an impact on accessibility and cause additional resources spent for brands to be able to produce these products.

HUANG: He says the industry can aim their ads towards adults only, and that some sellers, like Collins with the bottle shop in Maryland, and the chain store Target, already card for the purchase of these drinks. Pien Huang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Pien Huang
Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.