A bright-green bottle set against a background of pink flamingos, palm trees and a lemonslice sun promotes Sarasoda—“The Sparkling Citrus Cooler for Adults”— on billboards in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Officials at the Labatt Brewing Company Ltd. call it “the biggest breakthrough in the adult drinks industry in years.” But the pale amber fruit and malt beverage—with an alcohol content of 0.9 per cent—has caused a growing controversy since last November when Labatt’s introduced it in containers that look like beer bottles. The reason: liquor laws allow retailers to sell Sarasoda next to fruit juices and soft drinks in convenience stores, within easy reach of children. As a result, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has urged all provinces to place beverages with an alcohol content above 0.5 per cent under liquor control board regulations. And last week the Manitoba government announced its intention to remove the drink from store shelves.
Labatt vice-president of business development Allan Phillips says that CMA officials did not do a conscientious job of investigating the drink before stating the association’s position. As well, he maintains that the company developed the drink to pro-
While critics approve of low-alcohol alternatives, they say it is unethical to allow children to treat those beverages casually
vide young adults with an alternative to hard liquor. And results of independent tests conducted for Labatt on seven 19-year-olds who weighed less than 145 lb. indicated that children who consume two 341-ml bottles of Sarasoda are unlikely to develop significant blood alcohol levels. Said Phillips: “We are prepared to go to almost any lengths to satisfy people
with the safety of the product.”
Meanwhile, most critics say that the issue is double-edged. Although officials at addiction and alcoholism foundations support the concept of an easily accessible low-alcohol beverage for adults, they generally agree that it is unethical for children to be allowed to treat a drink containing alcohol casually. And although some, including Gregory Stevens, chairman of the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, say that Labatt’s studies are unreliable because they did not test children, their concerns centre on the habit-forming aspect of alcoholic consumption by youngsters. Said Henry Schankula, director of the educational resources division of the Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto: “We’re talking about kids acquiring a taste for beer at an early age—it’s a slick way of doing it.” Added Stevens: “They’re encouraging kids to develop a preference for Labatt’s. I’m worried that Molson’s and Carling will enter the same field.” But spokesmen at both of those rival breweries say there are no plans to market similar beverages. Still, the concern over kids in search of kicks remains.
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