Time to end drinking in public

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Time to end drinking in public

Jeon Byung-yul
The author, a former director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a professor at Cha University Medical School and the head of the Korea Public Health Association.


It’s a pity that a medical student was found dead after drinking with a friend near the riverside park in Banpo, southern Seoul. Due to the blackout of the person who drank together, the cause of the accident cannot be found. In a JoongAng Ilbo online poll conducted between May 17 and 23 on whether to designate the Hangang Park as alcohol-free zone, 35,666 people participated in the survey, and 64 percent agreed that drinking should be banned in the park.

 
Until now, beaches, mountains, public parks, lawns and college campuses have been considered public drinking places in Korea. There, violent altercations due to drinking, disturbance, noise, trash, odor and physical threats by drunkards are occurring. Despite the seriousness of the harm caused by drinking in public, there is no corresponding punishments for the acts. Unfortunately, there is no real way to restrict drinking in public places.
 
A group of hikers are drinking makeolli near the Daedongmun Gate at Mt. Bukhansan in March 2018. [KOREA NATIONAL PARK]

A group of hikers are drinking makeolli near the Daedongmun Gate at Mt. Bukhansan in March 2018. [KOREA NATIONAL PARK]

According to the 2018 Global Status of Alcohol and Health by the World Health Organization, 50 out of 167 countries regulate drinking in public parks and on streets, 82 countries regulate drinking on public transportation, 108 ban drinking in schools and 58 control drinking at sporting events. In Australia, all states ban drinking in public places. In the state of California in the U.S., drinking alcoholic beverages in parks is prohibited, and in New York State, drinking in the street or parks is subject to $25 in fine. In Britain, drinking in public places is illegal, and you get punished for being drunk and staggering on the street. Germany also strictly regulates drinking in public for violation of public order. In Canada, possessing an alcoholic beverage container is a violation, and drinking alcohol in places other than pubs is strictly banned.
 
Alcohol consumption in public places is strictly regulated around the world. Lately, voices calling for regulating drinking in public are growing in Korea after analyzing related policy in other countries to introduce a policy to prevent harm caused by drinking. The National Assembly revised the National Health Promotion Act at the end of last year after in-depth deliberation. According to the law, local governments can designate certain areas as alcohol-free zones by ordinance, and from June 30, drinking in the alcohol-free zones will be subject to a fine up to 100,000 won ($90).
 
But I don’t think that the legal amendment will easily improve the practice of drinking at outdoor tables of convenient stores, drinking on college campuses and drinking at beaches and outdoor parks, which has long been generously condoned. The Ministry of Health and Welfare started a campaign to reduce alcohol-related issues through moderate consumption since 2007 and have built a partnership with the Korea Public Health Association. As part of the effort, I have engaged in various moderate drinking campaign activities for college students, helped form on-campus student groups for preventative education, written a pledge to restrict alcohol consumption, aired promotional videos, held poster contests, offered counseling on alcohol-related issues and promoted self-checks.
 
The death of a college student in the Hangang Park caused by excessive drinking shocked society. At this point, a more aggressive campaign for moderate drinking should be promoted. At the same time, strict implementation of the public drinking ban to reduce the indirect harm of drinking and various policies to restrict access to alcohol for all age groups need to be introduced.
 
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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