Teaching kids to be winos


It never should have happened. That it did makes it difficult to commend the beverage company that has decided to stop selling kids' fruit drinks in bottles that resemble liquor flasks.

These flasks with screw-off tops look like something you might see a derelict in an alley drink from. Children in Baltimore trying to achieve that total wino look have been seen sipping from these fruit drink bottles inside paper bags.

Companies operated by people concerned about more than making money must consider every possible detrimental impact of their product, especially when it's being sold to children. There seems to have been no such concern when Everfresh Beverages of Franklin Park, Ill., starting marketing its fruit drinks in flasks six weeks ago.

The bottles look like those containing MD 20/20 wine, a potable so potent its nickname is "Mad Dog." Following numerous complaints, the Everfresh people have decided to phase out the bottles within a few months. By taking that action, Everfresh is finally acting responsibly.

It similarly took the public's reaction to motivate another Illinois company that was also selling a product to children that had negative connotations. Amurol Confections of Napierville, Ill., makes Bubble Beepers. The gum comes in a plastic case resembling a beeper, a tool of the trade for many inner-city drug dealers.

Gary Schuetz, vice president of marketing, says Amurol took it to heart when people complained about Bubble Beepers after the product came out three years ago. Amurol has changed the appearance of the gum boxes so they look more like toys. The containers with labels on both sides are now clear so you can see the gum inside.

An estimated 20 million Americans carry beepers or pagers. So it was somewhat understandable when Amurol chose a beeper gum container to go with its candy packages that look like cellular phones, bandage boxes, combination locks and hand-held computer games. But why would Everfresh make a juice bottle for kids that makes them look like they're chugging a pint of Mad Dog?

These types of products -- including the ink pens resembling hypodermic needles that were being sold to children in Baltimore last year -- always seem to turn up in neighborhoods that least need these reinforcements of negative activity. Stores that sell such products without regard for the impressions they leave on young minds are just as guilty as the manufacturers.

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