Legislators call for alcohol restrictions

UNDER THE INFLUENCE::Legislators said they were concerned that alcoholic beverage promotions are being specifically aimed at the nation’s young people

By Shih Hsiao-kuang, Wang Meng-lun and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporters, with Staff writer

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 - Page 4

Legislators urged government agencies to limit commercial advertising of alcoholic fruit drinks targeting young people and to consider amending regulations on the sale and promotion of alcoholic beverages to underage groups.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alicia Wang (王育敏) said on Tuesday that while people under the age of 18 are prohibited from drinking alcohol, there has been a proliferation of advertising aimed at minors.

“These ads use entertainers and other celebrities as spokespeople to promote alcoholic beverages. The alcohol companies’ ads are brainwashing young consumers,” she said.

“Fruit-punch drinks and bubbly wines are packaged with images of fruit and emphasize the addition of fruit juice content. They are passed off as healthy drinks and are becoming the entry point for minors to start drinking alcohol,” Wang said.

According to information from the Department of Health’s Bureau of Health Promotion, one in four young people between the ages of 12 and 17 has tried alcoholic drinks, with 23 percent purchasing the beverages on their own.

“This shows the store owners are derelict in their duty [to follow the law and deter underage drinking]. We will propose amendments to the Tobacco and Alcohol Administration Act (菸酒管理法),” she said.

The amendment would require stores to set up specific demarcated sections for alcohol products to avoid confusing minors, and the packaging of alcoholic drinks must have clear warnings with distinguishing colors stating: “Alcohol consumption by an underage person is prohibited.”

Wang accused government agencies of negligence, as more companies use popular entertainers to promote alcohol among the young, creating an impression of a fun and happy lifestyle, similar to adverts by soft-drink companies.

She also pointed to the promotion of alcohol as embedded marketing in television shows such as soap operas, which she said government agencies have done nothing to regulate.

KMT Legislator Liao Kuo-tung (廖國棟) has proposed a draft act aimed at the prevention of the harmful effects of alcoholic beverages, which has been forwarded to a legislative committee for assessment and review.

The draft act includes a “health tax” on alcohol and would ban alcohol ads on the radio and television, in newspapers and in other forms of media.

It would also ban entertainers and sports personalities from appearing in advertising and promotional campaigns by alcoholic product companies.

According to articles in the draft act, the health tax on alcohol would be 20 percent of the sale price.

Proceeds from the tax would go to a safety preparation fund for the National Health Insurance Program, cancer prevention and awareness, treatment of alcoholics, subsidies for areas with inadequate health clinic resources, public education on the harmful effects of alcohol and support for victims of drunk drivers.

Hsieh Chih-hua (謝志華), head of the Ministry of Finance’s National Treasury Agency’s Fifth Division, said that all alcohol products should conform to the Tobacco and Alcohol Administration Act (菸酒管理法).

He said that if legislators want to have new guidelines for the sale and advertising of alcohol, then the law must be amended.

Chien Hsu-cheng (簡旭徵), an official from the National Communications Commission’s Department of Content Affairs, said that in the past a commercial for an alcoholic drink incurred a fine for featuring grade-school and high-school students.

However, a number of advertisements currently target young people through promotion of a fun lifestyle associated with the drinking of alcoholic beverages, but no fines have been levied on those responsible for the adverts, he said.

Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp chairman Hsu An-hsuan (徐安旋) said in most supermarkets and convenience stores, alcoholic drinks are placed together in one section, as there is no legal requirement for them to be placed in a specific area.

Regarding packaging and warnings labels, Hsu said that once policy is set, companies will comply and follow the rules.

On potentially prohibiting entertainers and athletes from promoting alcoholic drinks, he said that many international alcoholic beverage companies have famous stars and sports personalities promoting their products, and that there are already guidelines for this.