By Amanda Anderson
BREVARD -- Imagine not being able to buy over-the-counter cough syrups and medicines because they contain alcohol, all because the business that supplies the products does not have a liquor license.
That is now a dismal reality for The Herb Corner, a Melbourne-based business that specializes in medicinal herbs.
On Thursday, May 30, Cecelia Avitabile, owner of The Herb Corner, received a visit from a Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco -- or ABT -- agent, who informed her that she would no longer be able to carry herbal tinctures, which are specifically formulated to treat a variety of medical needs, on her shelves.
As of press time, The Herbal Corner was the only Brevard County herbal medicine business to receive such notice, as of yet.
"I feel as if he came to me first because I am a small business," said Mrs. Avitabile , who removed such products from her shelves. "I do not believe that there were any complaints filed, because he did not state that -- only that I was selling tinctures."
Similar products and ingredients are found in stores like Publix, Nature's Market, the Dollar Store and many more.
A statement released May 25 by the American Herbal Products Association, led with the following information:
"The American Herbal Products Association has received reports that agents of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, possibly limited to its Orlando office, have conducted inspections in the past two weeks targeting the retail sale of herbal tinctures on the basis that these products are alcoholic beverages."
The release states that at least three of the inspections have resulted in warnings of "noncompliance with certain sections of Florida's alcoholic beverage laws."
In the release, the AHPA claims the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco is wrongly charging retailers with selling herbal tinctures without a current, valid alcohol beverage license. Businesses, like The Herbal Corner, could face criminal or civil charges if they continue to sell herbal tinctures.
Mrs. Avitabile contacted fellow herbalist Joanna Helms, of Mama Jo's Sunshine Herbals in Indian Harbour Beach, regarding the incident.
"She was also upset about this, and put me in touch with the American Herbal Products Association," Mrs. Avitabile added.
"AHPA believes that these enforcements represent a misunderstanding of the relevant Florida law," the AHPA said in the release. "While this law defines alcoholic beverages to include 'all beverages containing one-half of 1-percent or more alcohol,' it specifically exempts proprietary products that are 'unfit for beverage purposes.'"
The AHPA went on further to state that many AHPA members tinctures are labeled as herbal supplements and have been approved as non-beverage products by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and that some retailers manufacture tinctures that "are not sold or represented for beverage use and are unfit for beverage purposes."
As of press time, the AHPA's counsel was informed that the director of the ABT Enforcement Branch is seeking to ascertain the impetus for the inspections that occurred at businesses like The Herb Corner.