Driving under the influence (DUI) and underage drinking are two serious social issues in Taiwan, but two news reports last week have raised concerns as to whether Taiwanese really understand what the problems are and how to combat them.
Harsher punishments alone would not stop drunk driving — preventive measures to deter people both before and after they drink, as well as education and mental health treatment, are just as important.
However, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp and EasyCard’s drive to promote public transportation and discourage driving under the influence by launching limited-edition EasyCards shaped like miniature Taiwan Beer bottles.
Thirty percent of the proceeds from the cards are to be donated to Taiwan Against Drunk Driving and the Formosa Association for the Surgery of Trauma — a gesture of goodwill that should be praised.
Given that Taiwanese love Taiwan Beer, many would be willing to pay NT$390 for the card, especially when it is for a good cause. From a business standpoint, it is a good plan to make money and gain positive publicity.
However, what about the message the promotion conveys? It is one thing to sell souvenirs for profit and charity, but it is another to frame it as something that it is not: Seeing the image of a beer bottle might tempt people to drink. It would not, in the words of EasyCard chairman Kenneth Lin (林向愷), “remind people that public transit is available for transportation after consuming alcohol.”
Furthermore, most heavy drinking takes place late into the night, when public transportation is not available.
If the companies genuinely want to tackle the problem of drunk driving, they should extend public transportation services on weeknights to provide safe transportation for inebriated people. Or even easier, they could launch EasyCards with the slogan “Do not drink and drive” printed on them.
If they are not satisfied with doing the public a service and insist on making money, they could launch a cute anti-drunk-driving mascot that comes with a stuffed animal, which would be much more appealing than a beer bottle.
There are many ways in which the serious problem could have been addressed, but the companies took the easy way — as people have grown accustomed to see in government-related ventures.
The second report was about parents reacting to beer-flavored ice cream sold at FamilyMart convenience stores coming with a voucher for free beer.
This has “angered parents who have expressed concerns about their children’s health and lifestyle,” the Taipei Times reported.
The Consumers’ Foundation reacted by expounding the negative effects of alcohol on minors, which people already know and which is why minors are prohibited from drinking alcohol.
The problem is that the laws are not enforced. Whether FamilyMart sells beer-flavored ice cream and gives away free beer does not make a difference when pretty much any teenager could walk into a store and buy whiskey and cigarettes. In the US, even a middle-aged looking person, and in some cases elderly people, can be asked to produce ID cards, and in some cities police conduct random checks to ensure that stores are carding every customer.
If vendors carded customers before selling any type of alcohol-related products — including ice cream — then the parents would not have to go after a product that should be readily enjoyable for adults.
Which leads to another interesting question: Should there be an age limit for people who purchase the beer bottle-shaped EasyCards? This could be another firestorm for EasyCard, like the one it faced in 2015, when it issued special-edition cards bearing the images of an adult actress.
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