Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Youth drinking & alcopops

This report on alcopops by Choice magazine is interesting. Basically youth consume such drinks without experiencing the taste of alcohilc beverages. The taste of alcoholic beverages is rather unpleasant to neophyte drinkers so vendors of alcoholic products market sweet-tasting, alcopops with a soft-drink or milk base and often laced with a tasteless alcohol product such as vodka, to encourage alcohol use among youth. Later these same youth will graduate to mainstream alcohol products.

This is an important marketing innovation since booze sales Australia-wide have stabilised in recent decades so that promoting a steady stream of new drinkers is the only way to expand booze markets. Although aggregate sales are stable problem drinking continues to increase – it is the second-largest cause of hospital admissions related to drug use (after smoking). I think this move is unambiguously a social bad and that the sale and marketing of alcohol products to youth should be much more strenuously regulated than it is at present. Industry self-regulation is a total joke.

Neuroscience suggests that it is best to postpone the consumption of alcohol until after age 25 when the forebrain has developed completely. Alcohol is a neurotoxin which kills brain cells and the incidence of alcoholism is strongly related to the age at which drinking is initiated – the earlier the greater the problem. We do not wish to have a community of dopey kids.

I reprint sections of the Choice report below. For accuracy it is worth pointing out that pure alcohol is tasteless although I know what Choice means here – alcopos do not have the strong flavours of adult alcoholic drinks. In addition it is worth stressing that many teenagers choose alcopops because they want to experience the effects of alcohol without the taste – so there need not be a deception here.

In addition to the usual charge that I am a hypocrite for seeking curbs on alcohol while being a drinker myself I plead partially guilty. I am a hypocrite but have the excuse of ignorance and being a product of my upbringing. In addition, of course, my hypocrisy has nothing to do with the case against alcohol abuse I frequently espouse. My hypocrisy is a little diminished of late – I have been entirely alcohol abstinent for a couple of months and - along with taking some regular exercise - I feel much better for it.

CHOICE test reveals 25% couldn’t taste the alcohol in alcopops

Teenagers find it hard to tell the difference between soft drinks and so-called alcopops, which are part spirit and part soft drink or milk, according to a CHOICE taste test.

Almost half of the teenage male taste test participants could not tell that Vodka Mudshake Original Chocolate, which is 4% alcohol by volume, contained alcohol.

Overall, one quarter of the participants, who for legal reasons were over 18, couldn’t taste the alcohol in alcopops, also known as ready-to-drink or RTD beverages.

In the test 78 teenagers aged between 18 and 19 were given four different alcopops, four soft drinks and a sample each of beer and wine, all in unmarked glasses. They also completed a survey about their drinking habits and some took part in focus groups to discuss alcohol and alcopops.

Referring to alcopops, one of the participants remarked: “I used to drink all of these when I was a bit younger… like when I was at school.”

The trendy packaging, colours and flavours were deemed attractive by teens, and the sweet flavours, which in the test included chocolate, raspberry, lemon and passionfruit, can mask the taste of alcohol. CHOICE thinks the regulation of alcopops marketing, and of alcohol more generally, doesn’t effectively protect teenagers.

“It’s clear from CHOICE’s test that the use of sweet flavours reduces the resistance many teenagers have to the strong and, to many of them, unpleasant taste of alcohol,” said CHOICE media spokesperson Christopher Zinn.

While there are codes of practice for the companies that produce alcopops and the advertising industry that promotes them, CHOICE says there are some gaps, notably the internet.

CHOICE found one vodka-based RTD promoted on a website aimed at girls, despite the policy of its maker only to target its brands at the 18-plus age group. The promo was removed after CHOICE pointed out to the manufacturer that its placement was inappropriate and conflicted with its policy.


Sinclair Davidson said...

I don't see why anyone would have a go at you for this post - you are an adult. There is no inconsistency saying that minors shouldn't drink alcohol.

That said, I'm wondering about this test. All the participants were over the age of 18. Presumbably they knew what alcohol tasted like, so being unable to detect the flavourless alcohol isn't really a test at all. In other words, there is no control sample here (and they were given alcohol as part of the test). Also, only 25% couldn't tell any difference - that does undermine my first point somewhat - that does suggest the 'masking hypothesis' is not correct either. So all up, we have a biaed test that doesn't prove very much.

I don't disagree that alcohol abuse is a problem, but I don't know that this test shows anything.

derrida derider said...

What sinclair said - this test doesn't have the rigour needed to rely on its findings.

On the "worsening alcohol abuse" bit, I'm not so sure. I might possibly buy that binge drinking amongst the young is higher than a decade ago - that's what more expensive and less available alternatives (weed, ecky, etc) is likely to do. But I'd be very surprised if it was worse than thirty or forty years ago. Drunkenness was once much more deeply imbued in Australian culture.

Anonymous said...

I still hate the taste of alcohol and I'm 33.

hc said...

Both, The survey just confirms that the participasnts could not distinguidsh the class of drinks as being alcoholic. Alcohol is tasteless but alcohic drins - even vodka - have a taste.

Derrida derrida, I have read about huge quantities of gin being consumed in the early 1800s. The only data I have seen goes back about 20 years. I'll scout around for some longer-term stuff. It would be interesting.

Tony said...

You should get stuck into the alcopops then, Teajay. Just one. Just a taste. It won't hurt. Go on.

SimonC said...

If kiddies can't taste alcohol in 'alcopops' why not mandate there has to be more alcohol in these drinks?

I know I can always taste the alcohol when I do a 50/50 vodka and orange.

Anonymous said...


What are you doing.

First you tell me to eat bacon and eggs, that they are good for me

You seem to be heading vegatarian

You've now gone off the booze.

What the hell are you doing to yourself here?

Should i stay with the bacon and eggs or not now?


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