Why I support banning alcohol advertising or Stopping SAB and “Africa’s Lusty, Lively Exploitation Since 1652″


[The] Business Report points out that SABMiller is going to invest almost R20 billion in other African countries now representing its fastest growing market for beer.

Mark Bowman SABMiller’s (managing director for Africa) pointed out that people on the continent (excluding South Africa) consume only 8 litres of commercial beer per person per year and he wanted to increase this to 30 litres per person per year over the next 20 years.

Bowman is really saying he wants to take more money from poor people on the poorest continent. SABMiller is the parent company of SAB in South Africa.

South African Breweries (SAB) and its followers in the alcohol industry has a well-oiled lobbying (I mean lying) machine.  This lying machine has gone into over-drive because the Minister ofHealth, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi has dared to the rights put life, health and dignity of people before profit by suggesting a ban on alcohol advertising.

Ironically, the lying spokesperson of former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is now the spokesperson for advertising the liquor industry. Sibani Mngadi, the public policy and sustainability manager at “brandhouse” whose “extensive range of products include J&B, Amstel and Johnnie Walker said without any basis in fact that “the proposed ban would not reduce alcohol misuse but would have an adverse economic impact”. Sadly, the business press is failing to analyse the real costs to lives, families, households, the economy and public health in their attempt to defend industry.

I support a ban on alcohol advertising because alcohol impacts on personal and public health;  road  and community safety; as well as, family and community well-being. Alcoholism is the largest substance abuse problem in our country wreaking havoc on our communities.

Banning the advertising of alcohol must be the first step of a comprehensive plan to prevent, treat and mitigate the impact of alcoholism.  The industry lying machine suggests that there is “no evidence” that alcohol abuse will be reduced by advertising. They miss the point.

The proposed ban on advertising will stop making alcohol use “look cool” and through it prevent the targeted advertising among the vulnerable (especially children and unemployed) to promote buying beer, wine and spirits.

Evidence is important but policies and programmes are neversolely based on evidence. All policy must strive to beevidence informed. There is more than sufficient evidence to show that individual and social harm from alcohol abuse is greater than for instance the use of cigarettes.

Personal health: alcohol is the most common form of substance abuse. The mental health, employment prospects and quality of life of an individual who abuses alcohol is severely compromised. People who abuse alcohol are individually susceptible to a range of illnesses including heart disease, HIV and TB. Their ability to take medicine requires intense support and counselling because their risk of defaulting is very high.  Foetal alcohol is one of the most tragic consequences of enslaving people to alcohol.

The scale of alcoholism in South Africa makes it a critical public health question. Taking the population as a whole, adults in South Africa consume less alcohol than their counter-parts in many other regions of the world, (ours range between 10.3 and 12. litres).  WHO research has shown that about 70% of women and 40% men in South Africa do not drink.

However, the consumption level of individual people who actually drink (as opposed to the teetotalling majority)  alcohol consumption per adult drinker in South Africa among the highest in the world. For instance, Black Label beer sales alone exceed 1.4 billion 340ml bottles per year. Alcohol consumption and alcoholism among real youth as opposed to Julius Malema is also very high.

All the evidence on crime suggests that 73% of violent injuries sustained involve alcohol; brawls related to homicide between people who know each other and involve alcohol account for nearly a quarter of murders. Western Cape alcohol consumption and crime data is much worse than the rest of the country.

It is also argued by the industry lying machine that banning alcohol advertising violates the right to freedom of expression.  SAB opposed freedom of speech when satirist Kustin Nurse exposed their slick advertising  machine with his t-shirts “Black Labour, White Guilt”. They sued Nurse in what everyone  described as a “David against Goliath battle” (See M&G 11 March 2005) .

Unlike in the US, people are the bearers of human rights such as freedom of expression not corporations. Nurse won his case because the right to freedom of expression and to satirise a big company was regarded as fundamental to democracy. Interestingly, SAB told the Courts how advertising increases sales and profits.

In the SAB case against Laugh It Off, the Constitutional Court addressed the question of alcohol consumption and freedom of expression. Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke outlined the facts and included this statement:

SAB tell us that the marks have become well-known and are used extensively across South Africa in relation to beer sales. In fact Black Label beer has been sold in this country through a variety of trade outlets, from shebeens to mega-wholesalers, for over 30 years. The label and get-up of the beer were selected because they have a very strong visual impact; something which, we are told, compliments the beer rather well. The product’s reputation has progressed to become one of the leading beer products in the country.

The volume of sales of Black Label beer for the 2000/2001 financial year is said to have exceeded 1.4 billion 340ml bottles. This, we are assured, translates to 350 bottles of 340ml for every man, woman and child of all 40 million of us in this country.

SAB points out that these excellent beer sales volumes are owed to the Black Label brand whosemarket popularity derives from costly, concerted and pervasive advertising in the form of sport sponsorships, television, radio, print media, coasters, posters, flags, T-shirts, billboards and advertising on taxis. (Emphasis added)

According to SAB itself, “market popularity derives from costly, concerted and pervasive advertising“. These are some of the issues that we must address. Let me make it clear — the enjoyment of alcohol is good. Its abuse causes enormous social dislocation. However, people who use responsibly and those already “hooked” through alcoholism will not suddenly stop drinking because advertising is banned.

Read the SABMiller 2011 Annual Report here. The power of its money alone quite apart from the wine and spirits industry will show why they resist the ban on advertising.

This post contains two articles from Business Report and the Constitutional Court judgment.

Zackie Achmat

Originally published Ndifuna Ukwazi

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