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Quebec to ban high-sugar, high-alcohol drinks from grocery, convenience stores

Last Updated Mar 13, 2018 at 12:40 pm PDT

MONTREAL – The Quebec government will move to ban sales of sugary, high-alcohol beverages in convenience and grocery stores in an attempt to prevent younger consumers from buying them.

Public Security Minister Martin 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.

It comes amid calls for government action following the death of 14-year-old Athena Gervais, who reportedly consumed such a product last month before vanishing.

She was found dead in a stream behind her high school in Laval on March 1.

Under the proposed measures, Coiteux said beverages that contain more than seven per cent alcohol would be available only at Quebec liquor commission outlets and that it would be up to the Crown corporation to decide whether to stock the items.

“You got those convenience stores next to schools … where all minors can go in because they buy other things than just alcohol,” Coiteux told reporters in Quebec City.

“The chances they will consume those products when they are widely available in convenience stores are much higher.”

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.

There have been calls for stricter rules since the teen girl’s death.

Montreal La Presse reported Gervais had been drinking stolen cans of FCKD UP, a sweetened, malt-based alcoholic beverage with an alcohol content of 11.9 per cent — the equivalent of four drinks.

The company has since ceased production of the beverage.

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.

“They are particularly dangerous because they combine extremely high levels of alcohol with extremely high levels of sugar,” he said.

“Apparently those people who consume those products don’t even notice they are consuming alcohol and reach a point of intoxication that is a real, real threat for their health.”

Premier Philippe Couillard said Quebec was doing its part but it would be up to the federal government to deal with issues of distribution, labelling and legal authorization.

“We have seen the horrible tragedy of this young girl recently, we do not want to see others (so) we must play our part,” Couillard said.

Coiteux said the proposed measures would come into effect once the law is adopted, hopefully by the end of the current parliamentary session in June.