State Liquor & Lottery Commission Votes to Keep 'Nips' on Maine Shelves

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AUGUSTA, Maine. (WABI) - The state's Liquor and Lottery Commission denied Governor LePage's efforts to stop the sale in Maine of 50ml bottles, commonly called 'nips.'

The five member board voted Tuesday at the Augusta Armory to continue putting the popular products on Maine shelves.

"Half of the nips sold in Maine are Fireball variety, which are bottled right here in Lewiston. If one of the main items produced here is delisted, then jobs may be delisted too."

Lewiston's mayor, Robert Macdonald, spoke in opposition of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations' proposal to delist 50ml products.

The legislature recently passed a bill to place a five percent deposit on nips in an attempt to promote litter cleanup, but Governor LePage and BABLO believed that legislation raised an even larger question about the effects nip sales are having on OUIs in the state.

"Sales of this product size have exploded - far surpassing anyone's expectation when they were listed. Further, it does not seem that the widespread issue of drinking and discarding while driving was anticipated when the commission decided to list 50ml's for sale in Maine," said Aaron Chabourne, Senior Policy Advisor to Governor LePage.

But Macdonald says those who drink and drive won't stop doing so due to a container change. He says it's ultimately a conscious choice in their behavior that needs changing.

A local employer in Macdonald's district that bottles the popular Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey nips stood to lose jobs had the commission agreed with LePage and BABLO.

"Sazerac, a bottling facility and taxpayer in Lewiston, employs 130 people. They're currently occupying 90,000 square feet and they're poised to make a million dollar expansion in Lewiston," said Macdonald.

"Maine consumers are not going to tolerate targeted prohibition either. They will simply shift all of their alcohol purchases to neighboring states, inflicting economic harm to he state and undoing the wonderful job the state's been doing on regaining cross-border business," said Mark Brown, President & CEO of Sazerac Company.

While the commission opted to retain the product sizes, BABLO's director says he's proud the proposal sparked conversation around an important issue. But he isn't convinced it would have had the economic impact suggested by those in the hearing.

"We feel strongly and confident that the consumer would have migrated to a larger size and I think in the long term, I don't think our retail partners would have suffered that much at all really," said Gregg Mineo, BABLO's Director.

The five-cent deposit won't take hold until January of 2019 to give manufacturers the time to create proper labeling and stores the time to sell off their remaining product.