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TTB Issues Four-Part Series on Health-Related Alcohol Marketing Claims

As consumers continue to trend toward more health-conscious options, including in their choice of alcoholic beverages, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has responded with guidance on health-related marketing claims in a four-part weekly newsletter. The guidance is in response to what TTB categorized as an “increasing number of alcohol beverage advertisements…suggesting a relationship between alcohol beverage consumption and purported health benefits or effects” and provides industry members general guidance utilizing specific examples to help the industry navigate marketing in this space.

As a reminder, the TTB prohibits industry members from making any health-related statement in advertising that is (1) untrue or (2) tends to create a misleading impression of the effects of alcohol consumption on health.

Throughout the four-week focus, TTB provided some examples of unsubstantiated advertising statements that suggest consuming a particular alcohol beverage will mitigate health consequences typically associated with alcohol consumption that would be considered prohibited:

  • “No headaches”
  • “Hangover free”
  • “Diabetic friendly”

TTB also provided examples of unsubstantiated advertising statements that suggest consuming an alcoholic beverage will result in health benefits that would also be considered prohibited:

  • “Recovery drink”
  • “Anti-inflammatory”
  • “Aphrodisiac”
  • “Health benefits”

In week three, TTB weighed in on the use of the term “clean” in alcohol labeling and advertising. TTB reminded readers that it does not define the word “clean,” nor does it have a standard for the use of the term on labels or in advertisements. Accordingly, it alerted consumers that the use of the term should not be interpreted as suggesting a product is organic or has met any other production standard set by TTB. Whether the use of the term is permissible depends upon the totality of the label or the advertisement in which the term appears.

TTB did provide some examples of when the term is used permissibly and when its use may be misleading:

  • If the term “clean” is used as a descriptor for the taste of the beverage and is considered puffery, it may be used permissibly. For example, “X winery makes clean, crisp wine.”
  • If the term “clean” is used in a way that suggests that consumption of alcohol will have health benefits and/or that the health risks otherwise associated with alcohol consumption will be mitigated, the term’s use may be prohibited. For example, “X malt beverage is clean and healthy” or “Y vodka’s clean production methods mean no headaches for you.”

The final iteration of the four-part series reminded readers simply that “TTB advertising regulations prohibit any health-related statement that is untrue in any particular or tends to create a misleading impression as to the effects of alcohol consumption on health.”

With the amount of attention the TTB has dedicated to this area, we encourage industry members to monitor health-related advertising and marketing closely. For questions about health-related claims in the alcohol industry, please contact Alva Mather, Nichole Shustack, Isabelle Cunningham or McDermott’s Alcohol Regulatory [...]

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Legal Considerations for Ready-to-Drink Cocktails

The ready-to-drink cocktail or “RTD” category has exploded in recent years, and it’s occupied by more than merely craft distillers familiar with a carefully made cocktail. Brewers, distillers and even vintners have joined in, capitalizing on consumers’ desires for pre-made, no-fuss beverages. The most unexpected development to emerge with RTDs, however, is the legal complexity surrounding these products—something the industry is only beginning to understand.

Many of these legal issues stem from the fact that the legal regulatory landscape in most states has not caught up with the rapidly evolving alcohol industry. That leaves ready-to-drink cocktails, much like hard seltzers, as not having a specific class or type in certain states. Suppliers looking to enter the space have plentiful options when creating a new product, subject to what licenses the manufacturer holds and what those licenses allow them to produce.

Ready-to-drink cocktails can be spirits, malt, sugar, cider or wine-based. The base of the RTD product, nonetheless, is the key federal factor. It is also an important factor in most states when determining how the product will be treated from a legal perspective in the following areas:

  • Licensing needed to manufacture, distribute and sell the product;
  • Applicable franchise law (Do beer franchise laws apply to low-proof spirits?);
  • Available channels of distribution (Can you sell this product in grocery or convenience store?);
  • Excise tax rate charged to the manufacturer (Does state law have a lower excise tax rate for low ABV products?);
  • Labeling and advertising considerations (Is your product a modified traditional product?); and
  • Trade practice considerations/promotions (Do spirits laws apply?).

Industry members dabbling in a sphere that is relatively new to the market, state regulators and legislatures should be mindful of the patchwork of emerging regulations. Like hard seltzer, ready-to-drink cocktails are not a clearly defined category under existing alcohol law. Meanwhile, states are working quickly to legislate in this domain. New Jersey is considering a reduced alcoholic beverage tax rate on low-ABV liquors to align with the beer tax rate (NJ SB 701), Vermont is considering legislation to define “low alcohol spirits beverage” and treat it as a “vinous beverage” (VT HB 590) and the Washington State Senate has a bill pending that would establish a tax on low-proof beverages (WA SB 5049).

From franchise issues to excise tax, the issues discussed here are only a glimpse of the nuanced and complicated legal landscape that governs the distribution of RTDs and alcoholic beverages across all categories. Consulting with competent legal counsel with experience in the industry is crucial to ensuring compliance with applicable federal, state and local regulations.




24th Annual Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference

On September 16–17, CLE International will host the 24rd Annual Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Those attending will include the alcohol beverage industry’s leading practitioners, including in-house counsel for producers, distributors and retailers, as well as industry lawyers and state administrators. Conference topics include:

  • Updates on TTB developments and trends
  • An overview of recent developments in alcohol trade practice and trademark law
  • The significance of regulatory compliance, and the state of data security and ownership
  • Updates on the cannabis industry, including the latest legalization efforts and how it could affect the alcohol beverage industry

McDermott partner Marc Sorini serves as co-chair for the event and will also present. Other McDermott presenters will be Michael Kimberly and Anthony DeMaio.

Click here for the full agenda and registration information.




Alcohol, Cannabis and State Driving Laws

As more states legalize the recreational use of marijuana, beer servers will undoubtedly face situations in which a patron is too impaired to drive due to the consumption of both cannabis and alcohol. State laws do not provide a crosswalk of breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) limits and nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a driver’s body fluids. But a few states have established limits on the nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of THC that may be present in a driver’s blood or urine. States will continue to create and modify statutory and regulatory schemes focused on marijuana impairment. In doing so, state legislatures will likely revisit the policy discussions on limits for alcohol consumption.

Read the full article. 

Originally published in The New Brewer, July/August 2018.




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