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New Zealand liquor industry tries to head off advertising ban

New Zealand's liquor industry has been given one last chance to curb irresponsible advertising or risk a total ban on advertisements. Liquor interests, the advertising industry, and the news media have combined to adopt a code of practice to head off the threat of a legislated ban.

The proposal in Parliament for a ban followed a public outcry over two television ads for liquor discount chains. One featured a Superman look-alike. The other featured British comedian Benny Hill.

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The Superman ad caused the bigger row, with critics deploring the use of a childhood hero to promote liquor sales. The new code specifically bars linking liquor with ''identifiable heroes or heroines of the young.''

Advertisements on the state-run TV and radio are already restricted to store names, addresses, and hours of sale. Mention of specific brands of beer, hard liquor, and wine is forbidden.

The code was drawn up after Parliament narrowly defeated a bill that would have banned all liquor ads on TV. Since the bill's defeat, Phil Goff from the opposition Labor Party has drawn up another one that would bar TV and radio ads and put severe restrictions on all liquor ads in the print media.

The code is voluntary but contains sanctions under which advertisers who breach it a second time can be banned from publication for three months in all the nation's 42 daily newspapers and most of its magazines.

The code says anyone appearing in any liquor ad must be clearly over the legal drinking age of 20. Ads must not depict romantic situations or irresponsible frivolity and must not ''suggest that alcohol is a necessary element of success in life or an essential part of the pleasure and excitement of living.''

The advertising and liquor industries are fighting all moves to legislate against them, citing the principle ''legal to sell, legal to advertise.'' To show their sincerity, ad agencies are considering a proposal to force agencies that break the code of practice out of business.

New Zealanders drink a yearly average of 219 bottles of beer, 24 bottles of wine, and 8 bottles of spirits per person over age 14. This is a total of 12.11 liters of absolute alcohol per person. By comparison, the Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council says Americans consume about 11.2 liters of absolute alcohol a year. The French consume 19.2 liters a head, and at the other end of the scale, Norwegians consume 5.3 liters.

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