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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The Baltimore Sun

Redefining spirits won't protect kids

Underage drinking and drunken driving are serious problems in this country and need to be tackled head-on.

However, creating a new category for spirits that amount to flavored beer, increasing their price or changing where such products are sold would only confuse consumers and hurt the small businesses that would be forced to stop selling these products ("Mixing kids and liquor," editorial April 21).

Flavored beers are brewed like traditional beers and contain about the same alcohol content. The federal government, through the U.S. Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, has ruled that flavored beers are indeed beer. And the fact remains that they do not contain distilled spirits.

Research conducted by the Century Council shows that 65 percent of youths who drink get access to alcohol from adult family and friends.

That is why we need to refocus everyone's energy on what is most important here: keeping alcohol out of the hands of kids and empowering our nation's youths to make smart and informed decisions.

As Gov. Martin O'Malley reviews a bill that would clarify and maintain the state's current classification of flavored beer as beer ("O'Malley delays 'alcopops' measure," April 25), I hope he will keep in mind that sound policy should be based on facts, not misrepresentations.

Guy Smith, Norwalk, Conn.

The writer is executive director of a liquor distribution company.

'Alcopops' measure a menace to young

Gov. Martin O'Malley has said that he will delay signing the bill that would define "alcopops," or fruit drinks with alcohol, as beer, and continue to have them taxed at a much lower tax rate than the rate for liquor ("O'Malley delays 'alcopops' measure," April 25).

That's good. The state's attorney general, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Maryland Nurse's Association, the Maryland Association of Health Officials and others have urged the governor to veto the bill and said the liquor industry is targeting entry-level drinkers with these so-called fruit drinks that often have a higher alcohol content than beer.

The liquor industry denies doing so. But, like any other business, that industry is eager to expand its sales.

That is the American way. And nobody likes to pay higher taxes. But why should the industry get tax advantages from defining these alcohol products as beer when they are something else?

The liquor industry has a lot of influence in the General Assembly, and no one is faulting its representatives for protecting their interests. But they have overreached on this issue, as all of us beer drinkers know what beer tastes like.

And it does not taste like fruit drinks mixed with alcohol.

The liquor industry is well-protected in Annapolis. But is the public welfare so well-protected, especially when it comes to protecting young drinkers who, tragically, are involved in a disproportionate number of auto accidents?

Don Schroeder, Annapolis

The writer is bishop's deputy for public policy for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Balanced approach meets power needs

The real answer to the energy crisis in Maryland is diversification ("Balancing energy needs," April 25).

Every energy source has limits. None is perfect.

Solar energy is splendid but has problems of storage and wild fluctuations of availability with only a passing cloud.

Wind energy is fine but undependable.

Hydroelectric power is excellent but hard on fish and on land needed for farming.

Nuclear power is superb but requires care. It is, however, the safest energy source in the history of American power.

Wise planners do not drop any arrow from their quiver of resources.

Frank R. Haig, Baltimore

The writer is a professor of physics at Loyola College.

Will the city act to save trees?

I am glad to see that someone is finally paying attention to the trees in Baltimore ("And a disaster of a pear tree," April 25).

I walk on East Baltimore Street and Commerce Street every workday and notice that some of the mature trees in the area have outgrown the metal rings around their base.

As a result, the rings are cutting into the bark of some of the trees.

With some parts of the trunk cut in by the metal ring, the trees' lives will be shortened.

Will the city have these rings removed to save these beautiful trees?

Frank Lee, Baltimore

Bill lacks funding to protect seniors

As The Sun's article "Mikulski effort for senior health no accident" (April 23) described so well, the costs of senior falls are dramatic in terms of life-threatening injuries and billions of dollars in health costs.

That is why the National Council on Aging has long advocated policies that seek to prevent and reduce senior falls. And it is why we strongly supported the Safety of Seniors Act sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

The president just signed it into law ("Law focused on seniors' safety is signed," April 25). However, the law is unfunded.

To bring it to life, the NCOA and many others are urging Congress to increase appropriations for fall-prevention activities.

The funds would be used for education programs and demonstration projects for cost-effective interventions.

These include assessments, programs to improve balance, medication management and reduction of home hazards.

By 2011, the first of the 78 million baby boomers in this country will turn 65. If we cannot stem the current rate of increase in senior falls, treatment costs could reach $44 billion in 2020.

James P. Firman Washington

The writer is president and CEO of the National Council on Aging.

Reject products made in China

In the past year, we have faced numerous threats from things manufactured in China ("Tainted heparin threat widens," April 22). Some of these problems have even caused deaths.

I think that the tendency to maximize profits is a universal failing of human beings; Chinese manufacturers are no worse in this respect than American manufacturers.

But we have some protections under the law in this country; we do not have those protections in the case of Chinese products.

Until China affords us such rights, we ought to label any products that include Chinese ingredients as we do products wholly "Made in China."

Or perhaps we should avoid manufactured goods from China that are ingested, either by humans or pets.

Anne Brooks, Phoenix

One way to stem rising dental costs

After reading the article "Seniors' teeth a growing concern" (April 28), I would encourage The Sun to do a little extra research and list some solutions.

I found one. I recently joined a dental discount plan.

There are many plans to choose from, and thousands of dentists accept them.

This is one way to save from 10 percent to 60 percent on dental procedures.

Allan Kaufman, Owings Mills

Photo underscored the anxiety of war

Thank you for printing that beautiful and moving photo of a soldier returning home on Thursday's front page ("Home again, safe and sound," April 24).

It expresses the great joy of reunion of loved ones after homecoming from war as well as the many awful past hours of a mother whose child has been in harm's way.

Elke Straub, Baltimore

The photo on Thursday's front page of a mother embracing her son as he returned home from Iraq was one of the most moving I have ever seen.

While I hate this war and the administration that fostered it, I respect those who have made the decision to fight; my heart goes out to all those who have suffered losses.

But what if there was a war and no one came?

Deirdre Smith, Lutherville

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