The new Control of Marketing of Alcohol Beverages Bill

The draft Control of Marketing of Alcohol Beverages Bill is yet to be gazetted for comment although most have already expressed their opinion on the proposed Bill despite very little information being available regarding its scope and impact.

The motivation behind the proposed Bill, according to a statement made by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Combating Alcohol and Substance (IMC) is because ‘alcohol is reported to rank third on the list of risk factors leading to death and disability while other statistics point to a strong link between alcohol consumption and violent deaths, including those resulting from domestic conflict and suicide. In addition, significant numbers of people arrested for robbery, assault, rape and weapons-related offences are under the influence of alcohol’.

According to the Department of Transport more than half of the country’s road deaths occur as a result of alcohol abuse. Social Development Minister, Bathabile Dlamini, has said that South Africa has some of the highest foetal alcohol syndrome figures in the world.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) on the other hand is of the opinion that a ban on the marketing of alcohol will not only have a negative effect on the liquor industry and the economy but will also affect other areas of business such as the advertising, retail and hospitality industries.

Sport and the sponsorship of teams and/or individual players by known alcoholic brands will also be prejudiced by the ban on advertising. The South African Breweries (SAB), official sponsor of the Springboks and SAB Soccer League for example, has been involved in supporting South African sport from as far back as the late 1950s and has through sponsorship contributed to the socio-economic development within local communities by providing opportunities for individuals to improve their lives. Unfortunately, future support by well-known brands like the SAB will depend on the extent of the proposed ban.

Naturally, many questions come to mind, such as for example, will the draft Bill on controlling the marketing of alcohol effectively address the mentioned issues brought on by the misuse of alcohol as suggested by the IMC? Will responsible drinking be promoted by the control of the marketing of alcohol? One may be of the opinion that only controlling the marketing of alcohol in itself is not sufficient to combat alcohol abuse and other related issues but should rather simultaneously promote the responsible use of alcohol and educate consumers on the healthy enjoyment of alcohol. Another possibility could be to consider increasing the minimum age for legally consuming alcohol from 18 to 21 years of age as has been done in the United States of America, India and the United Kingdom as a means to controle the misuse of alcohol by uneducated minors.

Account should also be taken of international research which shows that a ban on alcohol advertising has not by itself had the desired effect of consumers’ consumption declining. In India, for example, the advertising of alcoholic and tobacco products has been banned since 1995. However, India has been identified as the fastest growing alcohol market in the world.

Another possibility is to balance out the ‘positive’ marketing of alcohol with ‘negative/preventative marketing’, emphasizing the possible harm caused by the misuse of alcohol as is currently being done with the advertising and promotion of tobacco with every packet holding a health warning to the consumer. However, the ban placed on tobacco companies to advertise their products in general media and television have necessitated them to utilise other platforms such as social media, mailing databases and the Internet to engage new customers and maintain existing clients.

Clearly there is much to be taken into account before the proposed Control of Marketing of Alcohol Beverages Bill can be implemented in our law. The implications thereof remains to be seen once greater clarity regarding the intentions of the Legislature become known.

September 30, 2013
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