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Zero tolerance for alcohol industry targeting children

In case you missed it, alcohol company Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) is entering the alcohol-free market next week with its new product, Carlton Zero. And if you believe the brewer, it’s for the good of humanity.

Carlton Zero uses many of the same ingredients used in full-strength Carlton Draught. It looks, smells, tastes, and is packaged just like normal beer – the only difference is its (lack of) alcohol content, and that anyone can buy it.

Indeed, Carlton Zero is not inherently a bad thing, and there are certainly benefits to bringing alcohol-free beer into the marketplace.

If adults use the product to lower their alcohol intake, then alcohol harm in Australia will be reduced, which will be great for all of us.

But there needs to be certain checks and balances in place with a product like this.

To get your hands on a Carlton Zero all you – or your underage child – needs to do, is wander into your local supermarket and pick up a six-pack from the soft drinks aisle.

CUB is at pains to tell us that “This is not a product that appeals to children.”

But if alcohol-free beer doesn’t appeal to children, it’s not from a lack of trying by CUB.

The initial promotion of Carlton Zero should be considered very attractive to children.

Images of AFL star Nathan Jones sitting in a sunny field with a football by his side while drinking a Carlton Zero have emerged to launch the alcohol-free beer.

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Alcohol-free beer Carlton Zero will be sold in supermarkets and marketed using sports stars as of next week. Good for adults, not so great for kids.

These photos published in the Herald Sun were accompanied by quotes seemingly force-fed to Jones by the CUB public relations team:

“This is for beer lovers like me,” Jones says of Carlton Zero in the article, “You really can’t tell the difference — it tastes great.”

If images of an AFL star spending a day in the park with his footy, while waxing lyrical of the flavour of a Carlton Zero doesn’t make the product appealing to AFL-loving kids, then I’ll be gobsmacked.

But even if the selection of Carlton Zero’s brand ambassador, photos, and quotes, is just the short game being played by the alcohol industry to groom new consumers – the truly worrying part is the long game booze brands play to normalise alcohol in our society.

Unfortunately, alcohol consumption is already normalised to an extreme and harmful extent among many Australians.

Allowing Carlton Zero – or any alcohol-free product ­– to be sold in supermarkets alongside everyday groceries further normalises alcohol for our children and for all of us.

Another concern is parents purchasing these alcohol-free drinks for their children under the illusion they are harmless supermarket products.

There is little doubt they provide a temptation for some parents to offer these products to their kids while they drink the real stuff as they watch the footy together, or over dinner.

Keeping the product in the realms of adults only should be compulsory. If a consumer wants to buy a Carlton Zero, then surely they should head to the local bottle shop to purchase it, along with other products that look, smell, taste, and are packaged like normal beer.

CUB is keen to tell us that, “Carlton Zero is for beer lovers who want more opportunities to enjoy beer responsibly”. However, history tells us it would be foolish to believe what the alcohol industry says on matters of ‘drinking responsibly’.

A recent analysis of alcohol industry submissions into Australia’s National Alcohol Strategy showed that it is are all too willing to lie and make dangerous claims at the expense of the health of Australians.

This was backed by further research in the UK, which showed that the alcohol industry relies on people to drink at harmful levels to keep its booze brands afloat.

So don’t be fooled by the spin.

Although a focus from industry on low-alcohol products is a step in the right direction, I hold strong reservations about CUB’s true motives.

If CUB’s aim is to use Carlton Zero to target underage drinkers and encourage an affiliation of the Carlton brand among its customers of tomorrow, that’s a problem.

It will be up to the rest of us to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Michael Thorn

Michael was was Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) from January 2011 until November 2019

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