The head of Discovery’s Vitality Institute, Dr Derek Yach, on Thursday advocated a step-by-step approach to prohibiting alcohol advertising, arguing it would be best to work with the industry to target priority areas rather than impose a wholesale ban.
Last year the ministers of health and social development made clear their intentions to take on the alcoholic beverage industry, and health officials drafted a controversial bill, leaked to the media, that proposes a total ban on advertising alcohol, prohibits sports sponsorships and outlaws a range of other promotional activities.
Not only did these proposals draw immediate fire from the alcohol, sports and media industries, but they also elicited criticism from the Department of Trade and Industry, which said the Cabinet would need to consider the economic effect of such measures before approval.
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"Given that alcohol is so embedded in society, you are not going to make progress if you simply try and introduce a total ban or draconian measures. It’s politically not feasible and it’s not going to get public support.… Rather see how far you can go with the industry on (tackling) underage drinking and drunk driving," said Dr Yach, who advised former health minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on developing South Africa’s anti-tobacco legislation.
"There has been an inclination to take the tobacco prescription and apply it to everything else …. (but) we need to be more nuanced in our approach," said Dr Yach.
He emphasised that alcohol use was a significant risk factor for developing non-communicable diseases and imposed a significant cost burden on society. According to the Medical Research Council (MRC) National Mortality Injury Survey, between 60 percent and 65 percent of road fatalities were due to alcohol abuse by motorists.
The head of the MRC’s alcohol and drug abuse research unit, Charles Parry, conceded that a total ban on alcohol advertising would cost the media dearly, but said alcohol cost South Africa R38.7bn in 2010, citing an unpublished study for the Department of Trade and Industry. Alcohol generated R10bn in excise tax, and R9.3bn that year, he said.
A study by marketing analyst Chris Moerdyk estimated the media industry would lose R2bn in revenue if the ban took effect, which would translate into the loss of 2,500 jobs. The SABC said such a ban would cost it R400m a year in revenue.
"Ample evidence indicates that the severe public health burden from hazardous and harmful use of alcohol in SA warrants the same drastic action (as for tobacco advertising)," said Prof Parry.
South Africa had among the highest consumption of alcohol per drinker in the world, and high rates of excess and binge drinking.