Western Australia has introduced measures to restrict the sale of alcoholic cooking essences in a bid to protect “naïve “ drinkers. The Victorian Coroners Court heard calls yesterday to remove large bottles of alcohol-based food essence from sale completely, following the tragic death of a 15-year-old boy in Melbourne in August 1999.

The teenager collapsed and died of hypothermia after consuming half a 375ml bottle of Hoyts Imitation Vodka Essence at a party. Costing just A$5.5, the product had an alcohol content of nearly 70% and when he mixing it with pineapple juice, the boy consumed the equivalent of 22 standard alcoholic drinks in less than half an hour.

The court was told that the bottles’ labels do not contain a warning about their alcohol content, but that it is common knowledge that the essence can be turned into an alcoholic drink. Recipes for this can be found in supermarkets and on the Internet.

The toxicity of the cocktail drunk by the teenager was likened to that of weed killer by medical experts at the court, however, and many queried why the larger bottles were actually for sale outside the catering industry.

Hugh Highman, WA’s liquor licensing director, commented that currently, the law restricts the contents of cooking essence products to 50ml. Old stock still held by some retailers meant that it is still possible to buy bigger bottles, however.