Time to take a stand on nips?

Policy options include ban, bottle deposit

MAYBE IT’S TIME for Beacon Hill to take a stand on nips, those little liquor bottles that many communities are coming to regard as a public nuisance.

Chelsea banned the 50 milliliter version last March, extended the ban to 100 milliliter bottles in August, and was thinking about going after the 250 milliliter flask-size when a group of liquor retailers appealed the ban to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

Chelsea’s chief concern was public drunkenness, but Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and the Salem City Council are more concerned about nips as litter. They urged state lawmakers on Thursday to expand the reach of the state’s bottle deposit law to nip liquor bottles, hoping the 5-cent charge will spur people to return their empties.

The problem isn’t going away. Evelyn Strawn, a volunteer clean-up coordinator in Plymouth, said her team picked up 500 nip bottles during two sweeps of a single street over a six-month period. “It’s not only environmental concerns; it’s a health concern, indicating the number of people drinking and driving,” she told the Plymouth Select Board in November.

Strawn estimated 68,000 nips are sold every day in Massachusetts, with about 25 million sold every year.

Maine, in its own convoluted way, has also been struggling with the issue. In 2017, state lawmakers in Maine voted to assess a 5-cent deposit on nips starting this year. Former governor Paul LePage vetoed the measure, but lawmakers overrode his veto. LePage then responded by vowing to ban the nips entirely as a public drinking danger. But that bid also failed when the Maine Liquor and Lottery Commission voted 4-1 to reject a nip ban.

The commissioners said they weren’t convinced nips were responsible for a small uptick in operating-under-the-influence convictions and didn’t want to undermine a Lewiston bottler who sells about half of the nips in the state.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Meanwhile, the debate rages on in Massachusetts. Brian Kyes, the police chief in Chelsea and the president of the Massachusetts Major City Police Chiefs Association, supports a ban. “They are sold for one simple reason — convenience. They can be conveniently secreted in one’s pants or jacket pocket, conveniently consumed in a moment’s notice, and conveniently discarded in the street when finished. There is no place for these containers on our city streets,” Kyes said.

Ben Weiner, the owner of Sav-Mor Spirits in Somerville and the president of the Massachusetts Package Store Association, said a ban on nips is bad public policy. “There are alternative means less harmful to businesses that achieve the same results,” he said.