Johannesburg - The liquor industry is gearing up for a major fight against the proposed ban of advertising of alcohol, which the government wishes to see implemented along the lines of the existing ban on cigarette and tobacco advertising.

The cabinet last week gave the nod to the Control of Marketing of Alcohol Beverages Bill. It was scheduled to be gazetted yesterday and it will now go through the parliamentary procedures, including public comment.

The liquor industry’s representative body, the Association for Responsible Alcohol Use, has come out in vocal opposition to the proposed law.

Mike Mabasa, the association’s spokesman, said yesterday: “Our stance is clear. We do not believe that banning alcohol advertising will reduce alcohol consumption.

“Research has shown that there are more than 20 countries around the world where alcohol advertising has been banned… there was no great downturn in usage.”

The alcohol advertising ban has been driven by the Health Department and in particular by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, but last Friday Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said the intention of the bill was to cut people’s exposure to the advertising and promotion of alcohol.

“The harmful use of alcohol has significant negative impacts on individuals, families, communities, the economy and the country as a whole,” she said, arguing that advertising influenced behaviour negatively.

But Mabasa – whose association represents the retail and wholesale sectors as well as producers including wine estates, Distell, SABMiller and Brandhouse – said the industry did not believe that an advertising billboard, for example, in Sandton, had any impact on the behaviour of consumers in a place like, say, Lusikisiki. It was in such rural townships that the real problems of alcohol abuse occurred.

“The [alcohol] problems are mainly in historically disadvantaged areas,” he said. Instead of a ban on advertising there should be targeted interventions to change abusive behaviour.

Advertising, he said, informed those who were already drinking of different products available in the market. It was the wrong place to tackle the social problems.

Many of the problems were associated with liquor products that were home brewed and were potentially dangerous, he pointed out.

Interventions should focus on education and responsible alcohol use in the advertising, it was suggested.

Motsoaledi, however, has asked the National Treasury to establish a mechanism to collect an additional levy on alcohol products to compensate for a R1.7 billion loss in government revenue if there were to be an ad ban.

It appears that the government is not united about the ban. The Treasury has rejected the proposal for a levy but has given guarded support to an increase in alcohol excise duties.

In a statement, the Treasury said an inter-ministerial committee for combating alcohol and substance abuse, which had been established in 2010, had proposed the introduction of “an earmarked levy”.

It reported that the committee had proposed a 1 percent levy on alcohol sales and the conversion of the Department of Trade and Industry’s licensing condition that required the liquor industry to contribute 1 percent of all sales to mitigate harm caused by alcohol. It was suggested that this revenue would be “ring-fenced” and administered by a board.

While a global figure for alcohol advertising spend is not available, the Treasury said the Department of Sport and Recreation had estimated that sports bodies would lose up to R650 million in direct sponsorships, advertising in stadiums and publications. - Business Report