Comment - Portman Group takes a wrong turn
The Portman Group has undermined efforts to promote responsible drinking by allowing companies to sell 14% abv alcohol in shot-sized test-tubes.
Whichever way you look at it, selling boxes of fruit-flavoured alcoholic drinks in test-tubes at 14% abv is not going to be a winner for the drinks industry's public image.
Yet, the Portman Group today rejected complaints about the products from Alcohol Focus Scotland.
"All of these drinks are sold in test tube packaging which means they are clearly designed to be downed in one go rather than sipped," said AFS in its complaint. "The containers cannot be set down on a flat surface so the consumer has to drink it all at once."
Portman admitted that the drinks were likely to be "downed in one", but still cleared them for sale - even though the group's own Code of Practice says that drinking in this way should be discouraged.
Defending the decision, Portman CEO David Poley cited the low level of liquid in each tube. "You could have ten of these test-tube drinks and still be within the Government’s recommended drinking levels."
That's a fair point, except that critics would argue that consumers can buy such drinks by the case. It is also a serious change of tack from last October, when the group criticised the sale of test-tube drink Mmwah, produced by Harwood Drinks.
At the time, Poley said: "The panel considered the design of Mmwah's packaging made it difficult for consumers not to down the drink. The industry shouldn't be urging this potentially harmful style of consumption."
Strenuous efforts are being made by the drinks producers, including Portman Group and all of the producers who fund it, to show that the industry is taking alcohol-related harm seriously. On the whole, we think Portman does a good job.
However, such a lack of clarity from Portman on test-tube drinks hardly builds confidence about the industry's ability to regulate itself. At worst, it hands authorities and health campaigners another stone to throw at the sector.
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