Celeb Alcohol Ads 'Fuel Underage Drinking'

      November 25, 2021 13:01

      One benefit of the coronavirus pandemic seems to have been that the underage drinking rate fell to just 10.7 percent last year, the lowest since 2005, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

      This was probably because youngsters were mostly housebound in lockdown and could not gather to share clandestine alcohol. But there are worries that underage drinking could be fueled by the return to normal and liquor businesses are strengthening their marketing campaigns to make up for the losses they suffered in lockdown.

      Ad campaigns are often led by K-pop stars like Bangtan Boys, also known as BTS, and Jennie, and experts warn that there is a clear correlation between idol endorsements and underage drinking.

      Lee Hae-kook of the Catholic University's Uijeongbu St. Mary's Hospital, who is also with the nonprofit Korean Addiction Forum, said, "It's worrying that liquor businesses are using pop idols who have an enormous influence on adolescents."

      In a poll of adolescents by the forum in July, 44.5 percent of respondents said that alcohol ads using pop idols or other celebrities make alcohol look friendly and 21.5 percent said that they make them think positively of alcohol.

      According to another study by the Korea Health Promotion Institute, 9.8 percent of adolescents felt like drinking after watching alcohol ads in 2020, up from 7.8 percent the previous year. An overseas study also finds that teenagers consumed more alcohol and their alcohol abuse risk increased if celebs appeared in alcohol advertising.

      In the U.S., the use of models under 24 and sports stars in alcohol ads is widely banned, and in the U.K., alcohol brands are banned from using celebs who are popular among young people.

      In Korea, however, a similar bill proposed here in 2015 has been scrapped after languishing at the committee stage in the National Assembly for years.

      In June, the Health and Welfare Ministry revised the law protecting children and adolescents including a ban on alcohol ads at events that target minors and expanded the ban on alcohol advertising from subway trains to buses, trains and taxis.

      "We need to find an alternative way like liquor businesses or celebs practicing self-restraint if it's too difficult to ban celebs from alcohol advertising by law," Lee said.

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