The government is going ahead with its ban on alcohol advertising and marketing, saying the negative effects of excessive drinking outweighed the possible loss of jobs due to the ban.
Speaking in Pretoria on Monday, members of the Social Protection and Community Development Cluster said the draft bill on the ban of alcohol advertising would be submitted to the cabinet before the end of the year. Other draft bills will also be submitted to the cabinet dealing with, among others, raising the purchasing price of alcohol from 18 to 21 years and the licensing of shebeens.
This comes as concerns have been raised about potential job losses in the advertising industry if major alcohol producers were to close their advertising accounts with advertising agencies.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said substance and alcohol abuse were among the ever-increasing challenges facing the youth globally and in SA.
“However, alcohol remains the most common primary drug of choice across the country and it results in risks, including accidents, injuries, teenage pregnancies, as well as unprotected sexual behaviour which leads to HIV transmission,” said Dlamini.
The government had communicated with the industries concerned and they would have an opportunity to make submissions when the bill is released for public comment, she said.
“We have spoken to industry and made it clear that our first priority is the health and safety of South Africans, everything else follows after that.
“We have to ask ourselves the question of whether we want to destroy the lives of people just so that others may have jobs.
“We must decide which one is our priority; and ours is very clear,” said Dlamini.
Her special adviser, Zane Dangor, said the bill was envisaging a total ban on alcohol advertising. If there were any job losses, these would only be in the advertising industry and not the entire alcohol industry.
“What we are dealing with here is public health and social development, both very important issues.
“We could also argue that there is already a loss of many jobs due to the excessive use of alcohol.
“When the bill is released for public comment, alcohol producers will have an opportunity to make their own comments,” said Dangor.
The director-general of Dlamini’s department, Vusi Madonsela, said people were speculating about the effects of the draft bill too early.
The department had been speaking to those who would be affected, especially regarding potential job losses, he said.
But SA Breweries (SAB) spokesman Benedict Maaga told Independent Newspapers on Monday that the Department of Social Development had “consistently refused” to engage the company, “despite the fact that SAB and the alcohol industry agreed with the government that alcohol abuse is at an unacceptable level in South Africa”.
“Rather than imposing restrictions on licensing, alcohol advertising, increasing consumption age limits and raising taxes on alcohol, SAB believes that the more effective way to address alcohol abuse is through targeted interventions focusing on those drinking patterns that are associated with harm,” said Maaga.
Public affairs consultant to the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) Adrian Botha agreed with Maaga, saying the department had not spoken to it about the proposed bill either.
“We’ve had no engagement. We’ve had debates on a public forum but we’ve never had a one-on-one like we had with the Department of Trade and Industry,” Botha said.
He referred to a version of the bill leaked earlier this year and said if the current bill was anything like what he had seen, it was “probably the most draconian piece of legislation I’ve seen anywhere in the world”.
He said the ARA – a non-profit organisation responsible for the prevention of the negative consequences of alcohol abuse, which regulates the two largest alcohol manufacturing companies in SA, SAB and Distell – supported the government in its efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm.
The ARA, like the government, acknowledged there was a problem in the country and a solution needed, but, according to Botha, “where we differ is how to get there”.
He said a ban on alcohol marketing would have several serious negative effects, which was borne out by international and local research. “It’s not just research, it’s logic,” said Botha.
According to Botha, more than 60 percent of South Africans did not drink, though they were all exposed to the same advertising, which meant that “advertising cannot be that powerful to make you do something you don’t want to do”.
The ban on alcohol marketing would have a negative impact on media houses and advertising agencies too.
Although Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi had compared the possible ban on alcohol marketing to the ban on tobacco marketing, it was not going to have the same effect, he said.