It was always expected that powerful vested interests associated with alcohol would fight tooth and nail to thwart any attempts to curtail alcohol advertising.
Still, recent attacks by some of these interests on those in favour of banning alcohol advertising – particularly the Soul City Institute – have taken the cake in terms of their vitriol.
Among the litany of bizarre accusations being hurled at organisations that oppose liquor advertising is that their real interest in the alcohol advertising debate is the amount of donor funds they can secure by presenting themselves as “the good guys”.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
These shrill outbursts, including untested claims by the advertising industry that a ban would result in job losses in that industry, reflect a global resistance tactic on this issue.
This scaremongering does not change the objective facts with which South Africans are confronted every day as a result of some of the negative outcomes associated with alcohol.
For example, Professor Charles Parry of the Medical Research Council has talked extensively of the 130-plus people who die every day from alcohol-related causes.
Most rational people will see this figure as too high, and say it is scandalous to equate it to the “estimated 2 500” people whose jobs “may” be shed by the advertising industry as a consequence of banning alcohol advertising.
No such job losses were recorded when the government banned tobacco advertising in 1999, as the advertising industry had hysterically claimed would happen.
Of course, there is method to the ultracharged response of vested interests to the call for a ban on alcohol advertising.
The intention is to obfuscate matters and divert the debate from life-and-death issues.
Hubris and emotion have become the favoured debating style of these players, as it is all about narrow commercial interests.
The indisputable fact is that the number of lives lost daily as a direct result of alcohol consumption is far too great compared to the advertising revenue and “potential” jobs that may be lost due to a ban on alcohol advertising.
To zero in on the facts: South Africa was rated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the 2010 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health as having the seventh-highest consumption of pure alcohol in the world, with an estimated 7.1 litres of absolute alcohol consumed per adult per year.
(Research by our Department of Health suggests the figure is actually 15 litres to 20 litres).
The 2011 WHO report indicated that South African alcohol consumption patterns place us in the second-highest category of harmful patterns of drinking and the highest category for binge drinking.
The nub of the issue is that the WHO Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol (2010) and the WHO Global Status Report on Non-Communicable Diseases (2010) indicate that the most cost-effective ways to reduce the harm caused by alcohol consumption are to ban alcohol advertising, make alcohol less available and make it more expensive.
The evidence indicates that alcohol advertising increases consumption, especially among young people – who also begin alcohol consumption earlier in countries where alcohol is advertised.
Alcohol adverts commonly link social and financial success, glamour and sporting prowess with alcohol consumption, when none of these can be linked to the product at all.
Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has taken a stand against alcohol advertising, saying such a ban could play a crucial role in the health of all South Africans.
Speaking recently at the conclusion of the festive season road safety campaign, Minister of Transport Ben Martins said that one of the major causes of road fatalities last year had again been drunk driving.
He also revealed that about 40 percent of 2012/13 festive season fatalities involved pedestrians, most of whom were drunk.
As a result, Martins echoed Motsoaledi’s sentiments.
He said the government was contemplating specific interventions to address this undesirable situation.
This would include reviewing existing legislative instruments to identify areas that needed strengthening, reviewing the current alcohol limit, and supporting the total ban on alcohol advertising.
Zane Dangor, the special adviser to the minister of social development, has made it clear that restricting alcohol advertising was one of several necessary interventions the government was proposing.
This is why Soul City, with its Phuza Wize partners, supports the introduction of a battery of measures to respond to the epidemic of alcohol-related harm in our country.
This includes the banning of alcohol advertising, reducing the availability of alcohol by increasing the price of alcohol, reducing the hours of sale, reducing the density of outlets in residential areas, and creating alcohol-free zones in sporting venues and other public places.
This is a public health challenge that costs the country thousands of precious lives and billions of rand every year, and which damages countless families and communities.
Perhaps South Africans should soberly consider what really is in the best interests of our country on this important matter, rather than just argue emotionally and with narrow self-interest in mind.
- Lebo Ramafoko is chief executive of the Soul City Institute, Africa’s biggest health and development communication organisation