Step in right di­rec­tion

The Korea Times - - OPINION -

Will en­ter­tain­ers’ photos dis­ap­pear from soju bot­tles? Peo­ple are ask­ing this ques­tion af­ter the Min­istry of Health and Wel­fare be­gan a move to ban lo­cal dis­til­leries from pro­mot­ing their al­co­holic prod­ucts through the use of celebrity pic­tures on their bot­tles and cans.

Both cig­a­rettes and al­co­hol harm hu­man health. The govern­ment is now car­ry­ing out an ac­tive anti-smok­ing cam­paign by forc­ing cig­a­rette mak­ers to print grim pic­tures on packs. In con­trast, how­ever, it is al­low­ing dis­tillers and brewers to put photos of celebs on al­co­hol con­tain­ers, caus­ing crit­i­cism that the health author­i­ties are not just le­nient to­ward drink­ing cul­ture but glam­or­iz­ing it.

Few can deny Kore­ans are more tol­er­ant of drink­ing than most other coun­tries in the world. In the course of rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, a drink af­ter work be­came a tonic for work­ing life.

Par­tic­u­larly, soju — the cheap liquor of­ten called the Korean vodka — has been el­e­vated to a na­tional drink, like an old buddy that helped Kore­ans live through the rough times.

Ko­rea is the only OECD mem­ber na­tion that al­lows liquor com­pa­nies to put celebri­ties’ images on al­co­hol la­bels. The govern­ment has al­lo­cated 138.8 bil­lion won ($119.6 mil­lion) to anti-to­bacco ini­tia­tives this year, but a mere 1.3 bil­lion won to cam­paigns dis­cour­ag­ing al­co­hol con­sump­tion.

The time has long past to change this im­bal­ance. Up to 4,800 Kore­ans die of al­co­hol-re­lated dis­eases a year, mean­ing 13 peo­ple lose their life a day be­cause of drink­ing. Ac­cord­ing to other govern­ment data, al­co­hol’s so­cial and eco­nomic costs amount to 9.45 tril­lion won a year, out­weigh­ing the 7.1 tril­lion won caused by smok­ing, and 6.7 tril­lion won by obe­sity.

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