Quebec to restrict sales of high-alcohol malt drinks
Published Tuesday, March 13, 2018 12:31PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 13, 2018 7:03PM EDT
Two weeks after the accidental death of a 14-year-old girl, Quebec is going to restrict access to sweet, highly-caffeinated, alcoholic drinks.
Premier Philippe Couillard confirmed Tuesday that beverages such as Fckd Up will be pulled from depanneur and grocery stores and will only be sold at SAQ outlets.
Current regulations allow malt liquor drinks with an alcohol of less than 12 per cent to be sold in depanneurs--and Fckd Up skirts that limit by having an alcohol content of 11.9 per cent – the equivalent of four drinks.
Couillard said he expects legislation to alter that limit will be passed by June, forcing all malt liquor with an alcohol content of more than 7 per cent to be restricted to the SAQ.
"We have played our role and I call upon the federal government to play its role. They have to look carefully at the real issues regarding safety, health issues around these type of products that are specifically designed to attract youth--you just have to look at the packaging--and this is something we should all be cognizant of and act upon,” he said.
Friends of Athena Gervais told police she drank one of those beverages over the lunch hour on Feb. 26, which is the equivalent of drinking four glasses of wine or beer.
Her body was discovered three days later in a stream behind her school.
“Apparently those who consume those products don't even notice that they are 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,” said Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux
Coiteux said Tuesday he will introduce an amendment to a bill seeking to modernize the province's alcohol and gaming legislation that would see the sweet, boozy drinks taken off the shelves.
"You got those convenience stores next to schools ... where all minors can go in because they buy other things than just alcohol," Coiteux said.
“The chance that they would consume those products, when they are widely available in convenience stores, is much higher than if you restrict that to SAQ -- if SAQ is interested in selling them, which is another question,” he said.
Couche-Tard has already decided to remove Fckd Up from its shelves, while the Geloso Group, which makes that product, has ceased production, although similar products remain available.
Coiteux said Quebec will maintain pressure on Health Canada, which is reviewing various products on the market with Quebec authorities and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to assess their safety.
Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois added that a prevention and education campaign -- for substance abuse in general -- would be part of the Quebec government response in the near future.
Charlebois said the province ordered a report last October when health officials noticed a spate of intoxication cases among young drinkers blamed on the sweet alcoholic drinks.
She said the report, produced earlier this month by Quebec's public health institute, suggested that of 7,055 emergency room visits for intoxication between January and late November last year, 2032 cases involved people between the ages of 12 and 24.
Of them, the report suggested 484 involved people who were not of legal drinking age.
Charlebois said those alcohol products can contain the equivalent of four glasses of alcohol and that the volume of sales exploded by 316 per cent in 2015 and 2016.
Some critics argue the government waited too long to take action.
“Educ'alcool warned. Are you waiting for a dead person, for dead young people before announcing something? Unfortunately, that happened. The Government of Quebec waited that some tragedy happens before acting,” said Quebec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir.
The head of Educ'alcool, Hubert Sacy, agrees, saying the tragedy could have been avoided.
“Unfortunately, everybody knows what happened. Yes, it could have been done earlier. It has not been done earlier. But at least they have started to do something, and we're going to look forward and make sure that the death of Athena Gervais won't be for nothing and would have helped saved others' lives,” he said.
- With a report from Sidhartha Banerjee of The Canadian Press