Gatineau youth support decision to pull controversial drink after teen's death

Young people in Gatineau say they agree with the decision Saturday by the province's largest dépanneur chain, Couche-Tard, to pull a controversial drink from shelves in the wake of a Quebec teen's death.

Couche-Tard has stopped carrying alcoholic drink FCKD UP after the death of Athena Gervais

The recent death of 14-year-old Athena Gervais has spurred the Couche-Tard chain to pull a high-alcohol energy drink called FCKD UP from its shelves. (Laval police)

Young people in Gatineau say they agree with the decision by the province's largest dépanneur chain, Couche-Tard, to pull a controversial drink from shelves in the wake of a Quebec teen's death.

Athena Gervais was discovered dead Thursday afternoon in Laval, Que., following a frantic four-day search.

Emergency responders found the 14-year-old's body in a stream behind her school.

Gervais's relatives later confirmed to Radio-Canada she had been consuming a caffeinated, high-alcohol drink called FCKD UP before her death.

Laval police said ​alcohol may have been a factor in the teen's death.

Students console one another alongside a police officer outside École Poly-Jeunesse in Fabreville, Que., where Athena Gervais went to school. Her body was found on March 1, 2018. (Charles Contant/CBC)

"Why are we even making these drinks?" asked Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) student Myriam Belisle on Saturday.

"It's really sad," she added, pointing out it took the death of a young teen to make the industry react. 

After FCKD UP was launched last fall, reports rolled in about young people landing in Montreal emergency rooms after consuming the sugary, caffeinated beverage, which contains 11.9 per cent alcohol.

Health experts criticized the makers of FCKD UP, claiming that Groupe Geloso was deliberately marketing to teenagers who are ill-prepared to handle the drink's effects.

Health experts have criticized the makers of FCKD UP, claiming that Groupe Geloso was deliberately marketing to teenagers who are ill-prepared to handle the drink's effects. (fckdup.ca)

Marketing relaunch a bust: health advocates

Groupe Geloso had recently relaunched its advertising campaign, featuring posters with a new message warning that a single can is equivalent to consuming four glasses of wine.

The French-language posters also urged consumers to "share your can, big guy."

Gatineau health advocates criticized the posters, however, which had appeared on bus shelters within meters of west Quebec high schools. 

Health advocates have criticized this marketing campaign for FCKD UP due to its proximity to Quebec schools. The company behind the high-alcohol energy drink later said it had pulled the bus shelter posters. (Radio-Canada)

"It shouldn't be okay to have ads of this type of drink right next to a high school,"  Émilie Dansereau-Trahan, an official with the Quebec Association for Public Health, told Radio-Canada last week — just days before Gervais disappeared.

Dansereau-Trahan and other health advocates want Health Canada to strengthen its rules against what she called a dangerous combination of sugar, caffeine and high levels of alcohol.

Quebec's 24-hour dépanneur Couche-Tard announced Friday evening the drink would would no longer be sold at its stores.

UQO student Camille Faubert said that was an important decision, since "in a way they contributed to [the teen's] death," noting that FCKD UP was sold in convenience store refrigerators right next to Coca-Cola and other alcohol-free beverages.

Université du Québec en Outaouais student Camille Faubert said she was glad to hear the Couche-Tard chain would be removing FCKD UP from its shelves — but she also wants to see stricter rules around the formulas for such drinks. (Radio Canada)

Teen's death 'a tragedy,' beverage maker says

In a statement, Groupe Geloso president Aldo Geloso said his company is encouraging the province to set up industry consultations to look at ways to prevent these sorts of drinks from getting into the hands of teens.

Geloso also said those consultations could look at whether high-alcohol drinks similar to FCKD UP should be banned altogether.

The company has now decided to pull its 60-plus bus shelter ads, as well as a YouTube video, as the start of "a complete overhaul of marketing that concerns this particular product," according to the statement. 

"The death of Athena Gervais is a tragedy," Geloso wrote in French. "It's now clear she had been consuming an alcoholic beverage she should never have had in her possession."
Couche-Tard convenience stores had removed FCKD UP drinks from its shelves as of March 2, 2018. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)