AUGUSTA — Maine retailers are pleading with regulators to brush aside calls to ban the sale of small liquor bottles known as nips.

The proposal “will take money out of the pockets of the state’s essential business partners,” the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association said in a statement.

Retailers warn the move would undermine successful efforts in recent years to reclaim millions of dollars in alcohol sales that had been lost to neighboring New Hampshire while doing little or nothing to stifle drunken driving.

The Retail Association of Maine told regulators the reality is all spirits contribute to the problem of driving under the influence, not just the 50-milliliter bottles eyed for de-listing by the state.

Moreover, it said, eliminating nips “is not going to address drinking and driving. In fact, it may make the problem worse as those individuals that choose to drink and drive will now choose a larger bottle of spirits to consume.”

The State Liquor and Lottery Commission plans Tuesday to decide whether or not to go along with a recommendation to bar the tiny bottles urged by Gov. Paul LePage and Gregory Mineo, the liquor bureau’s director.

The governor vowed to seek a ban if the Legislature refused to go along with his veto of a bill to add a nickel deposit on nips bottles, a move intended to thwart littering. When lawmakers overrode the veto anyway, LePage called for commissioners to ban the little bottles.

Bob Wentworth, the owner of the Rangeley IGA grocery store, said he would hate to see regulators go along with the proposal.

In testimony submitted for Tuesday’s hearing, Wentworth said his store began selling nips early in 2016 and is on pace to sell 7,000 nips this year, enough to make a difference to his bottom line.

“Over the last couple years,” Wentworth said, alcohol regulators have successfully “worked closely to try and increase both sales and profits for everyone.”

Christine Cummings, executive director of the grocers association, said more than 100 of the state’s retailers that compete directly with cross-border stores are likely to take a hit if nips are banned.

“There is ample evidence to suggest that New Hampshire businesses will be the primary beneficiary” of the move, she said, causing a loss of profits, state revenue and jobs in Maine.

“We simply cannot support losing one more dollar in sales to New Hampshire,” Cummings said. “Why should we give Maine consumers another reason to shop in New Hampshire?”

Her association said that “Maine’s spirits business has seen unprecedented positive change” since 2014 because LePage shook up the existing regulatory system in a bid “to take back sales from New Hampshire through strategic business planning, trade marketing and tactical investments.”

Maine is one of 18 states that control the sale of spirits within its borders, a bid “to insure responsible business practices and create a favorable economic climate while prohibiting sales to minors.”

With prodding from LePage and support from legislators, the state entered a 10-year deal in 2014 with Pine State Spirits to provide administration, warehousing and distribution for liquor sales in Maine with an explicit goal of competing more effectively with New Hampshire.

As part of the arrangement, the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations and liquor board commissioners determine what can be sold, mostly to try to keep the best-selling products on the shelves.

Curtis Picard, president of the retail association, said that before the change, Maine retailers had been “severely hampered with liquor sales when popular brands were sold for far less” in New Hampshire.

“It is a credit to the bureau that they have undertaken an aggressive marketing campaign letting people know that spirits are available at the same, or in some cases lower, prices” than consumers can find in the neighboring state, he said.

“This has increased retail sales and has been a benefit to both the state and retailers,” Picard said.

“It would be unfortunate to turn that around and essentially punish Maine retailers by losing the sales of 50-milliliter bottles,” he said.

Nips sales have been rising by 40 percent or more annually for the past five years, with more than 8.4 million sold in the past fiscal year, nearly half of it from one brand, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, which is bottled in Lewiston.

The Lewiston bottler, which employs 130,  recently warned that banning nips would impact its expansion plans and job growth, while forcing consumers to go out of state to purchase the small bottles they want.

To help it make the case, the company plans to have more than a dozen witnesses testify at Tuesday’s hearing, including the company’s president, its plant manager in Lewiston, Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald and the president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce.

The nips hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 11, at the Augusta State Armory, 179 Western Ave,. in Augusta.

The proposal that commissioners are considering would bar the sale of nips after Jan. 12, 2018. If they decline to de-list nips, the nickel deposit law takes effect in 2019.

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Retail outlets affected by cross-border liquor sales.

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