Quebec tightening control on sales of high-alcohol mixed drinks

Quebec is moving to ban the sale of pre-mixed malt beverages containing more than seven per cent alcohol from anywhere other than the provincial liquor stores.

High-alcohol malt-based drinks could soon be limited to shelves of SAQ outlets

It is currently legal to sell malt-based beverages, even those with high alcohol content, in dépanneurs and grocery stores. (CBC)

Quebec is moving to ban the sale of pre-mixed malt-based beverages containing more than seven per cent alcohol from anywhere other than the provincial liquor stores.

The decision comes two weeks after Athena Gervais, 14, died after she reportedly consumed an 11.9 per cent alcohol malt-liqour drink called FCKD UP on her school lunch break.

While police are still awaiting a toxicology report, the teen's death has brought such drinks under renewed scrutiny. The company that produces FCKD UP has since halted production, but other similar beverages are still on the market. 

300% growth in sales

On Tuesday, the government announced it intends to bar dépanneurs and grocery stores from selling pre-mixed beer drinks with high alcohol content. Craft beers and conventional beer beverages that have a high alcohol content would be exempt from the prohibition.

The law already limits the sale of high-alcohol cider to the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) outlets.

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said the appeal and marketing of the beverages to young people is worrisome.

"They're particularly dangerous because they combine extremely high levels of alcohol with extremely high levels of sugar," he said. 

"Apparently those who consume those products don't even notice that they're consuming alcohol, so they consume too much, too rapidly, and they reach a point of intoxication which is a real, real threat to their health."

A report by Quebec's Institut national de santé publique showed that sales of the beverages grew by more than 300 per cent in 2016-2017 and accounted for more than four per cent of the alcoholic beverages sold at dépanneurs and grocery stores, the report said. 

Coiteux said the new restriction is to be added to a bill already tabled in February which amends the province's liquor and gaming legislation.

Bill 170 will "modernize" the province's liquor permit regulations and give the Régie des alcools des courses et des jeux more power to ensure the law is being followed, Coiteux said.

"I think the public in general is waiting for legislators to do something about this, and with good reason. So, we will do it," he said. 

Not so fast, says the SAQ

Currently, dépanneurs and grocery stores are permitted to sell malt-based beverages and some wines, while the sale of all other alcohol is limited to the SAQ.

In a statement, SAQ spokesperson Mathieu Gaudreault said while the SAQ welcomes the ban on selling the potent, sugar-filled drinks in dépanneurs and grocery stores, it has not yet agreed to sell them in its outlets.

Gaudreault said the board will wait until the amendments to the bill are passed before making a decision.

The safety surrounding the combination of ingredients in the high-sugar, high-alcohol beverages has also been called into question in the wake of the teen's death.

In Canada, it's illegal to mix alcohol and caffeine in a premixed beverage. However, there's no prohibition on substances that contain caffeine, such as guarana, a prominently advertised ingredient in FCKD UP.

The Quebec government is also among a growing group of lawmakers and health professionals urging Health Canada, which has the final say which ingredients can be included in beverages, to regulate the drinks.


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