MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now to some young people lobbying for change, Elianna Yanger and Jimmy Jordan(ph) are both 17. They're members of a group called Friday Night Live. And this week, they successfully petitioned the state of California to consider a move aimed at cracking down on under-aged drinking through a reclassification of flavored malt beverages known as alcopops.
At a hearing before California's Board of Equalization, the students asked that the beverages be classified as distilled spirits. That means they'd be taxed at a much higher rate and sold only in stores with hard liquor licenses.
Currently, flavored malt beverages, whose flavorang can contain distilled spirits fall in the same category as beer.
Elianna Yanger and Jimmy Jordan were in Washington today on a visit to the Capitol. They explained just what alcopops are.
Mr. JIMMY JORDAN (Friday Night Live): I mean, it tastes -
Ms. ELIANNA YANGER (Friday Night Live): Like soda pop or something.
Mr. JORDAN: It just tastes just like soda to be honest with you. And tastes nothing like alcohol. And they have Mike's Hard Lemonade, which tastes just like popular lemonade.
NORRIS: Uh-mmm. So - and things like Bacardi Silver, I think I've seen the commercial.
Mr. JORDAN: Yes, those are also alcopops.
NORRIS: They show lots of very pretty people -
Mr. JORDAN: Yeah.
Ms. YANGER: Yeah.
Now, I'm curious about your strategy in trying to restrict the sales of these drinks by enforcing the spirit tags. As opposed to just targeting young people and saying hey, you know, this stuff are bad for you, stay away from it.
Mr. JORDAN: I mean, we do that. But no matter what we tell them, they're still going to go do it.
Ms. YANGER: Yeah.
Mr. JORDAN: This law is already in place. It's not being acted upon. The Board of Equalization already created this law a long time - notion 711 2004-1. That was the notion. And they stated it very clearly that any man who sell spirits and any kind of alcohol should be taxed as distilled spirits, not under a beer licensing. Because right now it's taxed at 30 cents a gallon, which it's supposed to be taxed at $3 a gallon. So pretty much, California is losing $40 million in revenue.
NORRIS: Jimmy, you sound like you've put together a position paper.
MR. JORDAN: I did. Well, we both did. All of us.
Ms. YANGER: Yeah.
NORRIS: So what makes Bacardi Silver or Mike's Hard Lemonade more dangerous than beer?
Ms. YANGER: Well, because I think because it's so sweetly flavored that young people will just drink and they'll think since it's so sweet, you know, it's not that bad. But in actuality, you know, you have the possibility of getting drunk from after one or two.
NORRIS: You know, some might say why the shades of gray here? Why not just try to work harder to make sure that young people stay away from alcohol of all kinds.
Mr. JORDAN: That's what we're doing. Just because the ones when it gets reclassified, it's going to be taken out of all these small convenience stores, just because those convenient stores don't have a hard liquor license. And like AMPM and 7-Eleven, the small Mom & Pop shops, they don't have a hard liquor license.
NORRIS: And it seems like you'd be up against some big guns in the lobbying industry.
Mr. JORDAN: We are.
Ms. YANGER: Oh, yeah.
Mr. JORDAN: At our hearing - because it was actually two days ago - there were just quite a few alcohol industries in the audience. I believe there is over 12 -
Ms. YANGER: Yeah, over 12.
Mr. JORDAN: Twelve members.
Ms. YANGER: Around 15, or something like that.
Mr. JORDAN: That actually spoke after us - about the issue saying that it's bad. It's not - what they're doing is not very good.
NORRIS: Now, what was that like for you to see all those -
Mr. JORDAN: It was -
NORRIS: - high-powered attorneys, and their suits and their briefcases. What was that like?
Mr. JORDAN: It was intense. It was very frustrating because I mean I don't think they see our view.
Ms. YANGER: Yeah.
Mr. JORDAN: They don't see all the advertisement coming towards us. They just see a market in for themselves to make money, I believe.
Ms. YANGER: They only see the business part of it.
NORRIS: What motivates both of you? Have you lost a friend? Have you seen someone fall into a bad way because they were drinking too much?
Ms. YANGER: I just think for my motivation is that I just want be the change and tell young people that just because you're in high school or just because you're young it doesn't mean you have to drugs and alcohol. There's different paths and different ways you can go to be successful.
Mr. JORDAN: Yeah. I came from a family that wasn't very stable. My dad drank a whole lot, came home drunk, did some not very smart things. And I turn all the aggravation from my family and put it towards something good.
NORRIS: Elianna Yanger, Jimmy Jordan, thanks for coming to our studio. I have a feeling that we might be seeing you in Washington - again, down the road. I just have that feeling. Good to talk to both of you.
Ms. YANGER: Thank you very much.
NORRIS: Elianna Yanger and Jimmy Jordan are high school seniors and members of the group Friday Night Live. Public hearings on whether to reclassify flavored malt beverages will be held in California next year.
SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.