Cheap, strong olioli high risk: Salvation Army

Locally manufactured olioli “coke wine” concerns the Salvation Army’s rehabilitation service which says its low price and accessibility is behind a rising number of alcohol-fuelled incidents. 

Despite assurances that the olioli wine products are in compliance with Health Ministry requirements, the Salvation Army’s Team Leader, Sailivao Aukusotino Senio, said their concerns were driven by clients seeking treatment.

"The Salvation Army [has] concerns regarding the consumption of the so-called olioli premixed alcoholic beverage, due to its high alcohol content, low cost and being readily accessible to the public," he said.

"Some [consumers] have reported ‘blackouts’, which occur when alcohol levels in your body are extremely high and this interferes with your brain's ability to create memories."

The wine is made from fermenting rice and mixing it with flavours like coke, lemon, pineapple, grape and strawberry. It is manufactured by Skyline Company Ltd., which was closed down last week as part of an investigation into its tax affairs. 

The alcohol content in the olioli Coke Wine is 8 per cent while the Olioli Lemon Wine, olioli Pineapple Wine, olioli Grape Wine, and olioli Strawberry Wine contains 13 per cent alcohol by volume. 

The drinks’ alcohol content is confirmed during yearly analysis tests conducted by the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa and is legal.

"It is a concern that these drinks are so accessible. They are marketed in bright colours and can easily be mistaken for soda," said Sailivao.

"They are readily available in many shops and we have heard concerns from families about young people being able to purchase these types of drinks without any restrictions. 

"We wonder how the company can manufacture this type of alcohol and sell it for such a low price."

Earlier this year, the Salvation Army revealed that between August 2018 and February 2020, the Court referred 430 people for alcohol-related crimes for counselling and help. 

A total of 90 per cent were alcohol and drug-related, said Sailivao.

"The risk factors stemming from these types of drinks with such a high percentage of alcohol is of great concern, not only for the person drinking but also others who may be affected by the persons’ behaviour while in such a state of intoxication," said Sailivao earlier this week.

"A lot of the people who are drinking olioli are unaware of the strength and the impact that it can have on them. It is very dangerous to consume this type of high strength alcohol over a short period of time and in large quantities. 

"The risk of an alcohol-induced coma which could result in death, it is very high when considered against the lack of awareness and ability to control safe levels of consumption."

Sailivao said young men from low-income backgrounds are most attracted to olioli.

"We typically find that it is our young people, those on low income or unemployed who are attracted to this type of drink, because it is cheap to buy and easy to drink,” he said. 

"It is a popular drink for people who are drinking to get drunk without it costing a lot of money. 

"Unfortunately, little is known about responsible drinking, with a lot of people consuming with the sole intention of getting drunk."

Last year, the Commissioner of Police, Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil, confirmed that locally-made liquor was being investigated after people complained of experiencing "blackouts" after drinking small amounts.  

“There are too many complaints about locally-made liquor [and incidents where] members of the public are experiencing blackouts. We are looking into this serious matter,” he said. 

“This is dangerous: people experiencing blackouts when they consumed a small amount of liquor.”  

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