Medical Professionals Warn Against K-Pop Idols Advertising Alcohol, Koreans React

Is the Korean media sugarcoating the dangers of drinking?

For ages, in the Korean entertainment business, it has been the trendiest of the trendiest stars scoring endorsements for HiteJinro and other alcohol brands. For actors and even K-Pop idols, becoming the face of Korea’s most beloved drinks—from beer to soju—has always been a sought-after deal. With the hottest K-Celebs promoting their drinks, these alcoholic brands benefit from associating themselves with the stars’ reputation of being attractive, fun, and “not dangerous at all.”

IU (far left), Red Velvet’s Irene (center left), Suzy (center right), and APINK’s Son Naeun (far right) in their alcohol advertisements. | Insight

Medical professionals, however, warned against celebrities advertising alcohol and “causing misunderstandings about the dangers of drinking.” At the 16th Cancer Prevention Symposium held by the National Cancer Center and the Korean Society of Cancer Prevention, Dr. Lee Hae Kook of the Catholic University of Korea criticized the nation’s lack of effort to educate its citizens and enforce policies against excessive drinking.

A scene from the K-Drama “Work Later, Drink Now.” | tvN

Dr. Lee pointed out South Korea is one of the last countries in the world to promote alcoholic sales with idols and emphasized that there is “a massive lack of understanding about the risks of problematic drinking behaviors.”

I’m disappointed by the lack of policies surrounding Korea’s drinking habits. Acetaldehyde, a chemical released from bodies breaking down alcohol, is a Class 1 toxin (human carcinogen), according to the World Health Organization. Yet, in Korea, there has been close to zero governmental regulations or societal effort made in the past five years to prevent the dangerous damages that could be done by alcohol.

South Korea is also one of the last countries whose number one cause of diseases is alcoholism. It’s also one of the last countries to continue promoting the sales of alcohol with idols. Even cancer survivors become vulnerable to drinking. There’s a massive lack of understanding about the risks of problematic drinking behaviors.

— Dr. Lee Hae Kook

According to Dr. Lee, Korea should work toward alcoholism prevention with regulations that have been long-enforced in countries like the US, France, and the UK. He added, “There’s something to be learned from the fact that Korea has a 40% recidivism rate of drunk driving incidents.”
A warning sign in Belfast, Northern Ireland. | Wikipedia

The US, France, UK, and other countries worldwide are preventing dangerous alcohol consumption habits with simple regulations in place—like banning celebrities from endorsing alcohol brands, fining public intoxication, limiting sales at certain hours, charging taxes per percentage of alcohol, and more. On the other hand, Korea has not budgeted more than an annual ₩1.50 billion KRW (about $1.16 million USD) since 2018. We’re focusing in ineffective policies that don’t help.

There’s something to be learned from the fact that Korea has a 40% recidivism rate of drunk driving incidents. We should push for regulating advertisements of alcohol past 10PM, and preventing the media from causing misunderstandings about the dangers of drinking.

— Dr. Lee Hae Kook

Following the presentation, Koreans expressed strong agreement with Dr. Lee’s sentiments and admitted the social norm of being lenient with alcohol-related issues.

| theqoo
  • “I think Korea should look into banning drinking on the streets at night. I know a lot of countries around the world enforce this. I don’t understand people who think that public intoxication is a good part of Korean nightlife culture. Isn’t it more like a risk factor? I hate seeing drunk people rolling around the streets on the weekends. Korea is too lenient, for sure.”
  • “Facts.”
  • “It’s absurd how alcohol brands are so specific about signing with female celebrities. Like… Drinking is not a good habit to have. There’s nothing positive about it. The advertisements are basically promoting alcoholism.”
  • “People who can’t control themselves after a couple of drinks… It’s because the alcohol messes with their brains. They can’t possibly expect to be fine after dumping chemicals in their bodies. As a whole, people are lacking information about how dangerous drinking is.”
  • “Alcohol is extremely dangerous to any society. But Koreans are way too lenient about drinking.”
  • “Which brands are endorsed by idols right now? Chum Churum switched to Han So Hee, didn’t it?”
  • “People here don’t take drinking seriously at all. And they treat you like a dumba*s if you can’t hold down your liquor.”

While “idols endorsing alcoholic beverages” aren’t the root of the drinking problems in Korea…

| theqoo
  • “I agree with what [the doctor] said. I feel like Korea is the only country that takes alcohol consumption into consideration when sentencing criminals. The Korean law basically disregards drunk violence as violence.”
  • “This is wildly off topic, but I think we should be wary of advertisements for weight loss supplements, too. As much as we should look out for alcohol.”
  • “From what I’ve seen… People drink alcohol like water. I know so many people who drink three to four days a week. None of us are taking drinking seriously.”
  • “Ugh… I literally have a hard time at my workplace because of my co-workers who like to drink so much.”
  • “Advertisements, yes. Even shows, too. I think drinking is as dangerous as smoking. Maybe worse. But the media doesn’t make it seem that way.”
  • “The media is ALL OVER the idea of drinking.”
  • “I agree.”
  • “Yeah… Korea is too chill about drinking problems.”

…most agreed that the media is, indeed, progressing in a harmful direction and that moderation is needed.

| theqoo
  • “Enough with drinking-centered content, too. We have minors watching these programs. Don’t we?”
  • “Korea has been strict about regulating smokers… But it’s not dealing with the drinkers at all. Haha.”
  • “The doctor’s right.”
  • “Koreans hate on smokers but don’t give much thought to drinkers. In fact, Koreans treat non-drinkers like boring freaks, when it’s not the same for non-smokers. Both are terrible for health. Both are detrimental to the society.”
  • “It’s honestly kind of weird how Koreans don’t consider drinking to be dangerous when alcohol causes a lot of problems.”
  • “SERIOUSLY, though. I don’t understand why Korea keeps promoting drinking like it’s healthy. It’s detrimental. I also hate when people talk about throwing up on the streets and passing out wherever because they had too much to drink. THAT’S NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF. I hope we can work toward changing the culture around drinking.”
Source: Medifonews and theqoo