Severe restrictions on alcohol advertising will be tabled before the cabinet within two months, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini confirmed on Tuesday.
Dlamini’s special adviser, Zane Dangor, said the restrictions would not necessarily take the form of an outright ban, but would focus on location, time and space.
“The restrictions would be quite significant… It could mean a complete ban on alcohol advertising on television, but you could have space (elsewhere),” he said.
Alcohol product sponsorships would be banned, he added, as the government was concerned about the “inaccurate link of sporting prowess and alcohol use”.
Earlier this year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi seemed to throw down the gauntlet to the alcohol industry, saying an advertising ban similar to the one on tobacco products was in the pipeline.
“No matter how financially powerful groups and institutions are, no matter how much money they make, I can stake my life that we are going to fight with our bare knuckles to achieve this,” he said at the time of his budget vote in May.
Since then, industry commentators have highlighted the potential loss of jobs and income of an estimated R2.5 billion in advertising and sponsorships, while saying a ban on alcohol advertising would not necessarily lead to a drop in consumption.
Asked whether the government was now backtracking on a total ban on alcohol advertising, Dangor said the government “is not going soft”, as the proposed recommendations could be quite severe. And they would stand alongside measures such as closing illegal drinking venues and the moratorium on liquor licences, which has been in force for the past three months.
Dangor added that it was crucial to move the public debate away from economics towards health.
“From a business perspective, the government is making a loss,” Dangor said, adding that the health and social costs outweighed government tax income from the industry.
“The (social) costs are more than the benefits derived from commercial enterprise. We need to move away from looking at alcohol as an economic issue – to see it as a public health issue.”
And research seems to back this up. In 2007 the Medical Research Council found alcohol-related deaths and injury cost South Africa R9 billion – or twice the amount the state receives from taxes and excise duties.
It is estimated that this cost will have increased by now.
Research also indicates that at least 30 percent of all hospital admissions are alcohol related, alongside the majority of domestic violence cases.
According to the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro), about half of all male prisoners were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when committing crimes, while the Transport Ministry says half of all road accidents involve alcohol.
Dangor said the proposed restrictions would be finalised next month by the technical team representing the departments of Social Development, Health, Transport, and Trade and Industry, as well as the Medical Research Council.
They would then be submitted to the relevant interministerial committee before being put on the cabinet’s agenda. If approved, a public comment process, expected to be “hectic”, would then unfold. - Political Bureau