Germany: Powdered alcohol helps kids skirt legal age
Starting them young
It's late in the evening and Dirk has just run up his
computer to make a few last minute purchases for his 16th birthday
party. At his first stop, he buys a few dozen small packets of powder.
Mixed with water, the powder will turn into an alcopop, a mixture of
alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages that has become increasingly
popular among underage drinkers in Germany. Dirk would have a hard time
getting past the cashier at his local supermarket, since he is below
legal age. And even if he found an older friend to shop for him, the
price tag would probably limit his purchase to a few bottles. Last July,
a law took effect aiming to prevent young people from buying and
drinking alcopops. The German government imposed a special tax of 80
euro cents to 90 euro cents for each 275-ml bottle. The French did the
same a few years ago, and the market for alcopops collapsed. Producers
have also been forced to label the bottles clearly so that cashiers see
that these drinks may not be sold to teenagers under the age of 18. By
selling alcopops in powder form over the Internet, Subyou has gained a
competitive advantage. To begin with, buyers do not have to pay the
special tax or Germany's bottle deposit. In addition, teenagers can
order the powder on the Internet, where it is difficult to confirm the
buyer's age. A packet contains 65 grams of powder, which can be turned
into a powerful drink containing 4.8 percent alcohol.
In the last few years, alcopops have become more and
more popular, especially among young people. The mixture of alcoholic
and non-alcoholic beverages, mostly spirits or beer mixed with soft
drinks or flavor enhancers, contains between 5 and 6 percent alcohol.
The addition of non-alcoholic drinks and sweetener means you cannot
taste the liquor, making them easier to drink for young people. They
also tend to think these drinks are weaker than other alcoholic
beverages, but in reality, the opposite is the case. The amount of
alcohol in one alcopop is equivalent to two shots of tequila. Alcopops
are the most popular alcoholic drinks among 14-to-17-year-olds, even
though the minimum age for the purchase of alcopops is 18. Back in 1998,
under-29-year-olds bought just 7 percent of all alcopops sold in
Germany. By 2003, this group accounted for a whopping 40 percent,
according to a study by the Federal Center for Health Education in 2003.
The popularity of alcopops has also reversed the downward trend in the
consumption of hard liquor. The average consumption per capita of pure
alcohol had decreased to 10.5 liters in 2001 from 12.9 liters in 1980.
By 2004, it had jumped back up to about 11 liters.
Germany's drug tsar, Marion Caspers-Merk (SPD), lashed
out against alcopops two years ago, referring to the popular mixture as
a “gateway drug.” The drinks are especially popular among
10-to-20-year-olds, an age when many people start getting addicted to
4 February 2005