Drinks companies are being accused of cashing in on the current low-carb diet craze by targeting weight-conscious young women with special wines and spirits which have a reduced calorie content.

Drinks companies are being accused of cashing in on the current low-carb diet craze by targeting weight-conscious young women with special wines and spirits which have a reduced calorie content.

Anti-alcohol charities say these new "low-cal" drinks could fuel the nation's abusive relationship with the bottle because they do not necessarily contain less alcohol.

This month, Bacardi-Martini is launching a new half-sugar Bacardi Breezer which will be available in fruit flavours to appeal to drinkers in their twenties and thirties who want to reduce their carbohydrate intake.

In a further appeal to the figure conscious, the label will carry specific information about the number of calories the drink contains. However, the alcohol content remains unchanged at 5 per cent.

Other new waistline-friendly products now on the market include Chardonnay One.4 and Merlot One.6 marketed by Brown-Forman. These have been named according to the number of grams of carbohydrates each serving contains. They have an alcohol content of 13.5 per cent. Another drink already on the market is Diet Lambrini, as well as a range of low-calorie beers including Michelob Ultra.

Low-calorie drinks, especially beers, are already hugely popular in the US where websites have sprang up providing details on how many calories each type of alcoholic drink contains and suggesting ways of reducing the calorific content of alcohol by mixing with Diet Coke, for example. Wine producers have also started putting tags around their bottles proclaiming: "Low carbs, high standards." However, market analysts suggest that the craze may not prove so popular among the British.

Bacardi-Martini said their research showed demand from consumers for alcoholic drinks with a reduced sugar content. They denied they were deliberately targeting the diet conscious and stressed that they also listed the number of units of alcohol in each bottle.

"This product is quite different to what is already out there and it is simply aimed at offering consumers choice," said a spokesman for the company.

The drinks industry has already been blamed for fuelling Britain's binge-drinking culture through promotions and its creation of warehouse-style bars which encourage excessive stand-up drinking.

Andrew McNeill, from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said women drinkers were a particular target for drinks manufacturers and that "sophisticated marketing techniques" were driving the problem of alcohol abuse.

"You can't point the finger, saying these drinks are inherently worse," said Mr McNeill. "But alcohol is empty calories, so the real question for people on a diet is whether they should be drinking at all. Also, you can run into problems with the integrity of the labelling, like using the word 'light', since people can interpret it as meaning a drink is low in alcohol when it is not."

Alcohol Concern said that anything which encouraged people to drink more was not good. "In general we would not encourage anything that contributes to women drinking more," said Srabani Sen, chief executive of the charity.

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