‘Nips’ talk lands at State House

Local community litter fight goes to Beacon Hill  

“NIPS” — THE SMALL liquor bottles that some see as an inexpensive blessing while others deem a public health issue and litter nuisance — have found their way into discussions at the State House.

While one Massachusetts community has gone as far as to ban the sale of nips, a legislative committee heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would add a 5-cent deposit on the tiny liquor bottle. Supporters of the bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Randy Hunt of Sandwich, say adding a deposit on nips would cut down on litter. They point to the success of a similar measure passed in Maine in 2017.

Robert Mellion, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, told lawmakers that liquor store owners would likely offer “a lot of opposition” to the bill as drafted because of frustrations over existing recycling processes.

Falmouth-based litter volunteers told legislators they documented every piece of trash they could find on the town’s roadways over six months, and found a third to be nips.

That “amazing number” highlights the case for a deposit on nips, which would create an incentive for returning them, said Alan Robinson, one of the volunteers. 

Hunt originally introduced the bill back in 2017 after a constituent reached out to him about litter. The legislation has 81 co-sponsors and bipartisan in both chambers, but it stalled last year in House Ways and Means.

Concern about nips appears to be picking up at the local level. 

In Bourne, residents discussed the impact of nips on the environment and public safety at a Board of Selectmen meeting earlier this month, with one resident saying a local ban would stop people from drinking on the road. “It is litter and alcoholism and that culture,” said board chairman Judith Froman, according to the Cape Cod Times.

Chelsea has gone the furthest of all, creating a bylaw in 2018 that bans nip bottle sales altogether from liquor stores in the city.  

Since the ban was imposed on 50-milliliter bottles of hard liquor, public drunkenness has declined, alcohol-related ambulance responses are way down, and there has been a reduction in the number of people taken into protective custody in the city for alcohol intoxication.

“It’s been over a year since that ban was put in place and the results are in – the impact of the ban is overwhelmingly positive,” Chelsea City Councilor Roy Avellaneda said in August. “Just look at the numbers.”

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Mellion, the package store association director, said last summer that the Chelsea ban was ill-conceived and that the real problem was alcoholism. “If the argument put forward is that the sale of 50- or 100-milliliter bottles is directly connected with alcohol addiction – if that’s true, all you’re doing is driving an individual to purchase a 200-milliliter item,” he said. “It’s a false narrative. If the goal is to end public drinking, the real way is to convince people not to drink, not remove a specific bottle size.” Otherwise, he said, people could just “walk over to Everett” to purchase nips..

The package store association is appealing the Chelsea Licensing Commission’s nip ban to the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

In the meantime, in additional to Bourne, other communities on Cape Cod, including Mashpee, Eastham, and Falmouth, are considering adopting local measures to ban the sales of nips.