Young adults drinking sugary products may actually be consuming alcohol, as a liquor industry insider has admitted that alcopops are sweetened to mask the taste of alcohol and to appeal to the "younger palate".
Pre-mixed drinks that "get young people drunk faster" are helping the market boom, a marketing executive behind the vodka-based drink Absolut Cut says.
Mat Baxter, a partner in the media-planning agency Naked Communications, insists that sugary drinks packaged in bright colours are the best way to allure youngsters to take to drinking.
"It's a more effective and easier way to get drunk faster and that's a conclusion that we've drawn from understanding the category dynamics," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying.
"It's one of the few drinks where you don't necessarily know you're drinking alcohol and that's a conscious effort to make those drinks more appealing to young people. (The) drinks are very much about masking the alcohol taste," he added.
Ready-to-drink manufacturers claim that they do not target underage drinkers.
According to Baxter, the industry is simply responding to consumer demand by sweetening such drinks.
"When you're young, your palate is tuned for sugary drinks (such as) juices or carbonated drinks," Baxter said.
"To retune the palate, when they get older and you start introducing alcohol, the easiest entry point to getting people to drink at the age of 18 is by continuing that same format," he said.
Health activists consider Baxter's comments to be the evidence that the industry encourages alcohol abuse.
"They know that binge drinkers are using this product to get off their face really fast," said Geoff Munro, director of the Community Alcohol Action Network.
"The alcohol advertising code states that alcohol must be marketed in a mature and responsible way. Producing drinks that are tailored for binge drinking is the opposite of responsible marketing," Munro added.