Will underage alcohol model ban reduce underage drinking in Korea?

Will underage alcohol model ban reduce underage drinking in Korea?
K-pop singer IU models Chamisul soju

A heated debate is intensifying in the alcoholic beverage industry as a revised bill to ban models aged 24 or under from appearing in liquor advertisements is awaiting final approval from the National Assembly.

The controversial bill is dubbed by news media as the "IU law," referring to popular singer-songwriter IU. The 22-year-old has been starring in Chamisul soju ads since late last year.

The debate started in 2012 when a ruling party lawmaker proposed a revision to the national health promotion law to ban celebrities aged 24 or less from appearing in alcohol ads. Offenders would face up to a one-year sentence or a 10 million won ($9,180) fine.

The bill was dormant and thus out of the public's focus for years, until the parliamentary health and welfare committee unexpectedly decided to have it passed.

The age of an adult as stated by the civil law is 19, so those who have reached the age can legally purchase and consume alcoholic beverages. But the youth act defines 'youth' as those aged between nine and 24.

So, should the bill be enacted, young adults aged between 19 and 24 will be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages but cannot promote them in the market.

Also, the revision bill would be at odds with the regulations on televised commercial deliberation, which states that those aged 19 or more may star in alcohol ads.

Despite controversies, advocates of this bill claim that underaged drinking models may have a negative influence on teenage drinking and thus should be restricted.

"Countries such as the US and Britain already have similar bans, and they stop people aged 25 or less from starring in liquor ads," said an aide to the ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker Rep. Lee Elisa, the initiator of the bill.

But Lee's team admitted that the corresponding overseas regulations are nonbinding and self-regulatory rules.

Attempting to add momentum to the faltering bill, a number of conservative Christian civic groups held a rally in front of the National Assembly earlier this week, demanding quick parliamentary approval.

"The frequent appearance of young adults in drinking ads may have a negative impact on teenagers, who tend to value peers," said an official of the Civil Solidarity on the Prevention of Addiction.

Alcohol manufacturers, however, remained poised, especially as the legislation and judicial committee spoke against the idea, claiming that the effect of the ban was uncertain. The excessive restriction may also infringe on the models' freedom of occupation, according to the committee.

"Even if the law revision did take place, it will take months until actual effectuation," said an official of Hite Jinro, the nation's second-largest alcohol company.

"Our contract with IU will end by then in any case so we have time to keep watch on the legislative moves and decide on our next action."

Hite Jinro is the manufacturer of Chamisul soju, as well as Hite beer, which had hired figure skating star Kim Yu-na back in 2012, when she was in the disputed 19-24 age group.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)

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