By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — Just days before he was supposed to move to Oklahoma for college, Brett Finbloom went to his buddy’s house for a goodbye party, but he didn’t return home.
“Your son’s heart has stopped and the paramedics are working on him,” police said to Finbloom’s father, Norm Finbloom, on the phone hours after his son left.
On that day five years ago, Norm Finbloom and his wife, Dawn, rushed to the hospital. Two days later, their 18-year-old son was dead. He drank too much alcohol too fast.
“Should cold beer be sold at convenient stores which makes it easier for teenagers to get it?” Finbloom asked the Alcohol Code Revision Commission at a hearing Monday. “That’s adding more access.”
The meeting comes after legislators passed a law during the 2017 legislative session that prevented convenience stores, like Ricker’s, from selling cold beer. However, convenience stores can sell other cold alcoholic beverages, including wine and hard ciders.
The Alcohol Code Revision Commission is using the time leading to the 2018 legislative session to study Indiana’s alcohol control laws more broadly, especially the issue surrounding cold beer sales.
“Our stores can sell Angry Orchard cold but we must sell Reds Apple Ale warm,” said Matt Norris of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers. “There may be a difference in how the products are made, but the vast majority of consumers see them as interchangeable.
Norris, who supports selling cold beer in convenience stores, was one of 31 people who testified about the issue.
However, Finbloom, along with others, opposed selling cold beer because it could make it easier for minors to get their hands on a product that could harm them. When cold beer is sold in liquor stores, minors are less likely to enter the store with intent to illegally purchase alcohol, Finbloom said. But when the alcohol is sold beside other items, like soda and chips, minors are more tempted.
“I’m concerned today that the legislation could take a significant step backward,” Finbloom said. “I have seen firsthand the destructive realities of alcohol abuse. We need to take positive steps to keep beer and other types of spirits away from the underage.”
While Indiana state law requires anyone who looks under the age of 40 to be carded before purchasing alcoholic beverages, those opposed to cold beer sales said they believe store clerks haven’t been trained thoroughly enough to responsibly card all who should be.
Throughout Indiana, there are 24 Thornton’s locations and all 308 team members have been taught to card anyone who looks under 40, and they face consequences if they don’t follow the rule, said Zach Matthews, senior real estate manager at Thornton’s. That’s also the case for the more than half dozen convenience store administrators who spoke Monday.
While store operators argue selling cold beer would be more convenient, it would also help their businesses’ bottom line.
“We have opened 69 new locations in the last 15 years and only two of those are in Indiana,” Matthews said. “The specific reason for our lack of investment in Indiana is directly related to the ability to sell cold beer to our guests in Indiana.”
Matthews said without the ability to sell cold beer, Indiana sales drop by 20 percent compared to the other states where his company operates.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 33 percent of minors drink alcohol. Of those, more than half said their drink of choice is beer, a number that worries people like Lisa Hutchinson from the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking.
“Alcohol is copiously convenient and is available nearly everywhere in the state,” Hutchinson said. “We do not need to make beer more convenient for minors. Convenience comes with a cost.”
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.