Alcohol-free drinks would be promoted to children under changes proposed by licensing experts in Edinburgh.
Supermarkets would be encouraged to introduce separate displays, away from the alcohol aisles, of booze-free beers such as Beck’s Blue so they could be bought by people under the age of 18 without breaking licensing laws.
But the proposal, by the Edinburgh Licensing Forum, has been criticised by anti-alcohol campaigners, who say it will encourage major drinks companies to introduce non-alcohol alternatives of their brands to young people.
The city’s licensing board is due to decide whether to accept the proposal and amend its licensing policy on Monday.
The change would state that there should be “individual displays of non or low-alcohol beer, lager, wine and cider that larger supermarkets offer with no time or age restrictions on their purchase”.
As well as allowing people under 18 to buy the brands – which have an alcohol volume below 0.5 per cent – the changes would also mean the brands would be able to be purchased at any time of day, rather than being restricted to 10am to 10pm.
Jennifer Curran, head of policy, research and communications at Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Alcohol Focus Scotland is working with licensing boards across Scotland to help them meet the objectives of our licensing laws, which include protecting and improving public health and protecting children from harm.
“We are concerned this proposal would allow major alcohol brands to introduce their low-alcohol alternatives to children if age restrictions were removed.
“We believe it is important that all drinks containing alcohol are displayed in the same area to make it clear they are special products subject to restrictions of sale.”
The proposal has been brought forward by the Edinburgh Licensing Forum, which represents the views of people concerned with the alcohol licensing system and provides advice and recommendations to the licensing board.
It says that supermarkets stock low-alcohol beer alongside full-strength products and consider the products as “alcohol” when they do not need to do so, as long as they have alcohol volumes below 0.5 per cent.
John Loudon, convener of the forum, said: “If you take a zero per cent alcohol beer to the checkout, they won’t sell it if it is outwith licensed hours, or unless you can prove to be over 18, which is a nonsense.
“We feel that supermarkets should be helping people to buy it if they wish.”
When told of concerns about introducing beer brands to children, Mr Loudon said: “If you want to have something with a half-decent flavour and you are not allowed to have the alcohol that goes with it then why not?
“It is like buying lemonade or orange juice – these products are not alcohol. You could drink it morning, noon and night and you would not get merry.”
A Scottish Government spokesman did not want to be drawn on the issue. He said: “This is a matter for Edinburgh Licensing Forum.”