In the last few days you have probably heard in the news about liquor “nips.” I want to clarify what all this commotion is about and “nip” the rumors in the bud!

Some of you may be wondering what these “nips” are. Nips are small liquor bottles containing 1.7 liquid ounces (50 milliliters) of liquor. I suspect they were developed to give an individual just a taste of the liquor they were considering buying before the purchase is completed.

For better or worse, nip sales and drinking of the nips has grown exponentially in Maine. In 2016, there were almost 7 million nips sold in Maine for a gross profit of about $6.5 million and a net profit (including sales tax) of nearly $4 million for the state-owned liquor business. Projected state sales for 2018 are 14 million nips, with a profit of over $7 million! Stores selling nips are making a 13 percent profit, and business is booming. In addition to the revenue, 120 Maine citizens are employed at the facility that bottles nips.

This is all great for the state of Maine, but there is a problem.

Unfortunately, it appears many consumers are buying these nips, consuming them while driving and tossing the empty bottle out the window, littering Maine roads. I’ll bet you would be outraged if a business came to Maine and littered our environment while making a profit. But that is exactly what is happening, only this time, it’s the state that’s making the profit.

That’s why a bipartisan effort – L.D. 56, An Act to Include 50 Milliliter and Smaller Liquor Bottles in the Laws Governing Returnable Containers – was introduced this session.

The public hearing before the Legislature’s Environmental and Natural Resources Committee brought out the magnitude of the problem. The committee was faced with two issues: dangerous driving and littering. The drinking and driving is a much bigger issue than just nips, however, and the committee’s jurisdiction only extends to the littering issue.

Once the work began, I worked with various affected parties, compromised and offered an amended bill. The amendment provides for a 5-cent deposit on nips with a compliance date of Jan. 1, 2019, giving companies time to make the changes to their labels. This was not a “backroom” deal, but a suggestion that was made before the whole committee.

Yes, implementation and operation could potentially cost the Maine liquor fund about $1.3 million – 8 cents per container times the millions of containers sold. Yet there still will be a significant profit if this cost is absorbed. The simplest action would be to increase the nip cost by this additional amount.

I do not think this minimal cost increase of 8 cents will reduce sales, just as an increase to the gas or cigarette taxes would not deter the purchasing of those items.

But now, the threat of a veto looms. The governor believes the deposit will not stop the littering, and believe it or not, I actually agree with him! However, a 5-cent deposit has proven to be enough incentive for others to clean up the mess by giving individuals the opportunity to return the recyclable plastic to a redemption center and make money.

The governor has suggested if the Legislature overrides the veto, he will work to ban the nip-sized bottles as an option for consumers. He sees the nips as a drinking and driving problem and doesn’t believe the deposit will stop this practice. He may well be right.

If this is his only concern, why stop with the nips? We really should ban all sizes that could be consumed as one drives now, including 200, 350 and 750 milliliter containers of liquor as well as bottles and cans of wine and beer.

Banning nips would cost the state far more than the 8 cents to handle the “new” returnables. In 2018, the state would be walking away from $15 million in gross sales – $6 million to the liquor fund and nearly $1.2 million in sales tax to the General Fund. The local stores selling nips would lose nearly $2 million in income. A local bottler that provides 120 jobs in Maine, with facilities in both Maine and New Hampshire, would potentially leave.

Finally, the consumer will not have as much choice in the size of liquor container they choose to purchase.

While the Environment and Natural Resources Committee could only address littering, the governor chose to address the broader and more important issue of drinking and driving. I applaud him for recognizing this problem and encourage him to go forward with his solution.

In the meantime, let the deposit go forward. There is no need to wait for a veto override vote. We can “nip” both problems with action today.