Early in March, Boston city councilor Ricardo Arroyo filed a motion to ban the sale and distribution of mini bottles of liquor, aka nips. Arroyo wants Boston to follow the nip ban as adopted in Newton, Chelsea, Falmouth, Wareham and Mashpee.
When asked about the proposal, Arroyo said the small bottles often end up as litter and that by banning these bottles Boston will experience fewer alcohol-related incidents.
But Bostonians must ask themselves: is this a good justification for banning what is essentially a small version of an otherwise legal product? The answer is no. The nip ban is just another encroachment from the nanny state, this time aimed at adult consumers who prefer nips because they are convenient, ultimately punishing drinkers who want small serving sizes.
For public health, there is little evidence to suggest that prohibition of smaller-sized products works, certainly not from a harm reduction angle. If Boston does go down the road of banning nips, consumers will ultimately make one of two choices in response. The first is that they will buy these convenient bottles beyond Boston’s city limits. This is obviously irritating for consumers, and problematic for Boston retailers as this motion tilts the scales against them.
The alternative to buying nips elsewhere is, ironically, buying larger bottles of alcohol. It is hard to see how fewer alcohol-related incidents will arise from a policy that mandates consumers buy bottles of liquor 3 ounces or larger. Imagine trying to curb obesity by mandating that no meal can be less than 800 calories?
By stomping on convenience for consumers, Arroyo’s motion will actually end up nudging drinkers to larger bottles, and the possibility of more consumption and more alcohol-related incidents. This is a lose-lose scenario.
The second major critique of nips is disposal. Because they are small, too many drinkers dispose of them by simply throwing them out on the street. Of course, this is unacceptable. There are laws against littering, and they need to be enforced. But surely the city council can identify a problem that needs to be solved, without deferring to prohibitionist policies? Other options, such as the expansion of trash bins on city streets, or more by-law litter enforcement, should be exhausted before going down the route of a complete ban of a product consumers clearly love.
Those who support the ban highlight that because these bottles are small, they are virtually impossible to recycle. Municipal websites across the state explain that they often fall through the cracks of the sorting machines, and thus should be put in your trash bag as opposed to being recycled.
This is only true using dated machinery and recycling technology. Through chemical depolymerization, the repurposing of the bonds in plastics, virtually all plastic can be recycled. Take for example Alterra Energy in Ohio. Their advanced recycling plant takes in 40-50 tons of hard to recycle plastics (like nips) and transforms them back into the building blocks for new plastic production, extending the life cycle of these hard to recycle plastics indefinitely.
Is Councilor Arroyo trying to reinvent the wheel of prohibition? The prohibition of alcohol 100 years ago failed. The mindset of banning products that were deemed a nuisance caused more harm than good, which is why alcohol was then legalized. The prohibition of cannabis in Massachusetts failed, as well.
Eventually legislators learned that the consequences of criminalizing cannabis were far worse than the harms associated with cannabis use. Prohibition always promises results, but ends up creating a long list of negative second-order effects, many of which are worse than the initial issue of substance use.
Councillor Arroyo’s campaign to treat us all like children when it comes to the purchase of nips is going to have all the success of previous prohibitions. The nip ban motion should be thrown in the trash can, along with your empty nips.
Originally published here