Fury over Disney 'children's champagne'


The Scotsman

March 25, 2007

FROM the gold foil wrapping to the cork, the wire tie, and the shape of the bottle it looks - and bubbles - much like the real thing.

But Disney Partyfizz, a fizzy juice drink aimed at the massive children's party market, has been seized on by health campaigners as a potentially dangerous gateway to alcoholism for youngsters.

The entertainment giant has been accused of acting irresponsibly by creating a champagne-style drink for children. Disney's detractors warn the product will create a "dangerous mindset" among youngsters and encourage early experiments with alcohol.

Tesco is among the retailers stocking the 1.99 bottles and last night insisted the 'kiddie champagne' was safe and would remain on its shelves.
The row follows rising concern about underage drinking in Scotland. More than 40% of 15-year-olds in Scotland regularly drink alcohol, with consumption higher among girls than boys. Last week a report claimed alcohol, as well as tobacco, was as dangerous as any illegal substances.

Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "It's irresponsible to market and package juice for children as if it is alcohol, particularly by such a famous global brand as Disney. Underage drinking is a big enough problem in Scotland without products like this being aimed at young children. We call on Tesco to remove the product from its shelves immediately."

Law added: "It could lead to potentially dangerous situations. A child could reach for a bottle of real champagne at a family party thinking it's fizzy juice, and pour himself or herself a glass. Parents should consider the connotations before buying this product."

Campaigners have likened the lookalike bubbly to controversial cigarette sweets, which are still sold to children despite known risks. According to research published in the British Medical Journal in 2000, children who have used sweet cigarettes are more likely to become adult smokers.

American researchers found that executives in the tobacco industry regarded sweet cigarettes as good advertising for future smokers. Withdrawing the confectionery from sale could even reduce tobacco use among young people, concluded researchers.

Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University, said: "It is a matter of serious concern that Disney has chosen to present soft drinks to young people that so very clearly resemble alcoholic products.

"In Scotland we have a huge problem with underage drinking. Some of our strongest alcoholic products have penetrated the world of children and young people.

"The marketing of this product will only serve to further young people's interest in alcohol and to encourage the graduation from those products that resemble alcohol to drinking the real thing."

Last week, lobby group Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) called for a Scottish parliament inquiry into alcohol-related health problems, which are responsible for 45 deaths in Scotland each week.

Dr Bruce Ritson, chairman of SHAAP, agreed parents should stay away from alcohol-style drinks. He said: "I have concerns about this looking like alcohol or real champagne. It fosters the ambition of celebrating occasions with alcohol. It could introduce young children to a model of drinking alcohol. Parents should be encouraged to think seriously about this product's connotations before buying it for their children."

Disney's foray into celebratory drinks for children is part of the wider trend towards lavish kids' parties. As well as increasingly exotic venues, the average party bag now contains items worth 7.48, according to a survey published earlier this month. Pressure to provide upmarket trinkets means the gifts include sunglasses, temporary tattoos, model cars and water pistols.

But Richard Lamming of the British Soft Drinks Association said: "It's quite hard to see how this could lead children off the straight and narrow. I don't share the view that it will encourage children to drink alcohol. These concerns are not well founded. I am sure children are quite aware that they are drinking fizzy apple juice and not alcohol. The whole point of the drink is to let children have a bit of fun.

"I can understand there is concern about factors influencing teenagers and children to drink. But this product is not a risk factor."

Yesterday Tesco, which enjoys the biggest share of the UK's supermarket industry, denied the product was harmful to children. "You can buy many other products in champagne shapes. One common example is chocolates. This is because the shape of a champagne bottle is associated with family celebration," said a Tesco spokesman.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "We are very concerned about alcohol misuse, including anything that would encourage those under the age of 18 to drink alcohol."

No one was available for comment from Disney.

'It made me feel grown up'

THE girls from Glasgow watched, fascinated, as the wire tie on the Disney Partyfizz bottle was unravelled.

The distinctive 'pop' of the cork drew an excited shriek from the two friends, who burst into laughter.

"I want a bottle for my birthday next month to share with my cousins," said Monica Perry, aged seven. "It tasted like fizzy apple juice. I really liked it.

"It reminds me of champagne. The bottle shape and the colour of the juice are the same. I've seen mummy and daddy drink champagne at parties."

Mary Anne Keegan, also seven, wasn't convinced at first. "It tasted a bit funny because I've never had apple juice before," she said. "I thought it was champagne when I first saw it. The bottle looks just like it.

It was good fun. It made me feel a bit grown-up."

Her mother, Teri Smillie, rejected claims the product could lead to underage drinking.

"It's just another way of making parties special for kids," said Smillie. "It's not like parents are buying a bottle for their kids to drink on a Friday night while the parents sip their white wine."

Sweets with bitter taste

IN 1999, shops in Britain were flooded with chewing tobacco sold in brightly coloured sweet-style packs.

The foil packets from Asia sold for as little as 20p, with some bearing children's faces on the front. The packets contained ground tobacco, often mixed with other ingredients including betel nuts. Some were sweetened, with one type tasting of chocolate.

Politicians called for an immediate ban on the product, which was blamed for a rise in oral cancer among children.

Sweet cigarettes, also known as candy sticks, are still sold in small retail outlets today.

Lobby groups have called for the sweets to be banned over concerns they can encourage children to smoke.


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