Shoks Mnisi Mzolo – Cii News | 26 Safar 1436/19 December 2014

The reason is advertising. That, research says, is one of the factors behind SA’s high levels of alcohol abuse. Highways in large towns and cities are pockmarked by billboards bearing beer adverts. Not only does this contravene the industry’s self-imposed regulations on alcohol advertising, barring beer makers from putting up adverts where 30% of the market is under-age, but sustains a drinking culture.

“Research shows that in societies where young people are exposed to alcohol advertising, they start to drink alcohol earlier in life and they continue to drink more throughout their life cycle because it looks normal to them because everywhere around them they see these adverts,” Saveera Kaladien, advocacy manager at Soul City’s Phuza Wise told Sabahul Khair.

The fact that alcohol companies splurge north of R1bn on advertising, and, critically, more than half of that budget expended from October to December – the festive season – speaks for itself. Beer sales are at their peak this time of the year, and so are road fatalities. To some, this is just a matter of stats but not to those who lose their loved ones. Some drinkers who belong to stokvels get tempted by the R1bn advertising budget and, after painstakingly saving throughout the year, spend their hard-earned cash on booze.

“It is absolutely heart breaking because when we get into January we find that a lot of people who have saved for the entire year still don’t have money to pay for school fees or for clothing and books for children who have to go to school because they’ve spent it all on alcohol,” Kaladien argued. “This is why we can’t leave the issue to be discussed once or twice in December because by now people’s idea of what they want to do with their money is already very firmly in their mind. We need to be able to make it harder for them to do that by changing (our) environment.”

Part of the reason, Soul City started the Phuza Wise campaign was to lessen the levels of violence in SA. The World Health Organisation, said Kaladien, has a set of 10 strategies it recommends to tackle the scourge of violence. Reducing beer availability and consumption is one of their strategies to this end, she told Cii listeners. She also drew links between SA’s high rate of violence and alcohol, admittedly not the only factor.

While pointing out that alcohol does trigger gender-based violence, and other types, Kaladien noted that there are wide sections of society in which alcohol is not consumed but the level of violence against women is still very high. “That is related to the status of women in society. In terms of whether or not government is generally doing enough, we would generally say no because while there are lots of NGOs that are working in the area of against women there aren’t enough facilities for women who are looking to get out of a violent situation,” she said.

“There aren’t enough resources that are given to address those problems because with these kinds of epidemics of violence against women and high alcohol consumption you need to address it on a daily basis not only in the environment but also in behavior change,” she said, also lamenting that Student Representative Councils splurge parents’ and bursars’ funds on booze, as entertainment, at the many student parties across several universities.

Turning to advertising, which routinely feature healthy-looking people and rarely tackles health dangers of drinking, Kaladien noted the “responsible drinking” line used by the multibillion rand beer industry. “What it means to be a responsible drinker if you’re going to be driving, if you’re a pregnant woman, if you’re under age? It’s completely different,” she said. “(Alcohol companies) don’t tell us what the safe and healthy limit of alcohol consumption is.”

Although Soul City, and others opposed to high levels of consumption, push for behavior change, Kaladien said it’s as important for the environment to change as well. “(That) makes it easier for people to adopt a healthy behavior. In simple terms, it means we need to see a ban on alcohol marketing because they’re spending more than R1bn a year on alcohol advertising in SA alone,” she said.

“We’ve got about 220,000 outlets in the country selling alcohol and only 20,000 of those are licenced. The other 200,000 (outlets) need to follow some safer social practices. We mean, they must have security, they must have good lighting, they must not sell to people under 18, they mustn’t sell alcohol cheaply,” she asserted. “That should not be allowed because if you sell alcohol cheaply you encourage people to drink excessively. We need policy change from government.”