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Mitchell Chapman: What to do about nip bottles in Pittsfield?

liquor bottles on ground (copy)

A ban on the sale of small bottles of liquor, or "nips," has been proposed in Pittsfield. The empty bottles are frequently found littered around the city.

Pittsfield has found itself in a tough situation involving nip alcohol bottles: How do they rein in their litter without adversely affecting small businesses that have come to rely on their revenue?

One solution recently floated would be an outright ban, as proposed via petition by local attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo. This has received some pushback from local package store owners, who are wary of how it will financially affect their business.

“If you take nips away, you’re still going to have candy and chip wrappers, scratch tickets, cigarettes and coffee cups along our beaches and roads,” said Pinal J. Shah, owner of Harte’s Package Store, during a recent city meeting The Eagle reported on. “A ban on nips would be picking winners and losers in a time when our community is beginning to get back to normal.”

Another concern brought up during the meeting is that people could just simply buy nips from other towns in the county, which would create a local system of haves and have-nots in terms of being allowed to keep the popular items in stock. And because of that, it also won’t necessarily eliminate their litter.

However, the fact remains that nips — a product that these package stores sell in large quantities — have a quantifiable negative impact on their local communities that needs to be reigned in, especially in terms of litter. An outright ban is one solution. During the meeting, a deposit program was suggested, and it’s worth noting that on the state level, there is an effort to update the state’s bottle return laws that, among other things, would include nip bottles. Connecticut has recently implemented an alcohol nip surcharge that could be promising, if local communities spend the money from that program wisely on cleanup efforts.

Chelsea is often cited as one of the places where outright bans have worked, with Commonwealth Magazine reporting that, one year after implementation of the ban, cases of public drunkenness, alcohol-related ambulance responses and people being taken into protective custody for alcohol intoxication steeply declined, along with the litter associated with the bottles, though package stores saw a notable decline in revenue.

A common counterargument against a nip bottle ban’s effect at battling alcoholism and public intoxication is that those who want to drink will just either get nips from somewhere else, or will resort to purchasing larger quantities of alcohol, encouraging people to drink more, an argument I am highly skeptical of because it glosses over the fact that nip bans eliminate the convenience factor nips offer. Additionally, larger bottles of alcohol are more of a financial commitment, and much harder to conceal and dispose of.

Disposal and concealment are also key points in the national conversation on alcohol nips’ impact on drunk driving. A 2017 report by Steve Collins of the Sun Journal in Maine linked a large increase in the sale of nips in the state to an uptick in drunk driving cases. He interviewed Gregory Mineo, the director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations in the state, who admitted that the design of nips is ideal for getting around open container laws.

“Unlike larger bottles, which can be difficult to conceal in a vehicle and are readily visible when jettisoned out a window,” Mineo said, the design of nips “is ideal for avoiding detection during a police stop. It fits easily in pants pockets and can be swiftly crammed into seat crevices. Moreover, its small profile makes its flight from a vehicle window difficult to detect.”

Nip bottles’ impact on intoxicated driving is a fair conversation to have, especially considering that they are commonly found on roadways in the Berkshires and beyond, both in places that are friendly to pedestrian traffic and in parts where only automobiles can travel comfortably. It’s also fair to analyze the community impact of nips as a whole, and ask ourselves: Are they doing more harm than good?

As the city moves forward and mulls over what to do with the sale of nips, it must keep the overall good of the community at the forefront. Any bans, restrictions or surcharges on nip bottles will negatively affect the package stores that sell them, but their potential loss of revenue should not kill efforts to regulate them, as the sale of nip bottles is not more important than the overall welfare of the community as a whole.

Mitchell Chapman is The Eagle’s weekend news editor, as well as a columnist.

Weekend News Editor and Columnist

Mitchell Chapman has been with The Eagle since 2016. He is a former editor of The MCLA Beacon and was a Berkshires Week intern in 2017.

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