Alcohol advertising

OPINION: Alcohol advertising ban: Politically correct, shortsighted, wrong

Banning alcohol advertising will stop people drinking. Right? It will cure alcoholics and families. Right? Wrong. Its effects are negligible, it promotes job losses and it entrenches monopolies. [This great opinion piece is by Justin McCarthy, writing for the Daily Maverick…]

The topic of alcohol advertising, wherever in the world it is debated, is marked by predominantly emotional arguments lacking in empirical substantiation and rational debate. There is no question that South Africa has an alcohol-abuse problem. Related problems such as foetal alcohol syndrome, physical and emotional abuse, drunk driving, severe medical conditions and a raft of social side effects are significant health and social concerns that require attention.

Most South Africans acknowledge the challenge we face regarding alcohol abuse and I am broadly supportive of health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi’s efforts in addressing many of our health issues. However, the recently unveiled draft Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill reveals a disturbingly sinister approach by the department of health on this issue.

There are two problems with its approach: in any government it is almost always politically expedient to resort to banning as a form of constituency-pleasing, and the pro-banning lobby bases its position almost entirely on what is known as “social learning theory”. This theory conceptualises the effect of advertising as a two-step process in which advertising increases consumption, which in turn produces more alcohol abuse and therefore more social and medical ills.

The reality is that this argument has been disproved, repeatedly and in many countries, by a succession of quantitative and qualitative research projects. The body of research on the relationship between alcohol and consumption is large and varied. In this summary, I cover 22 studies from the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany, France and Australia, as well as more than 740 research papers, journals, articles and government publications from all over the world. Importantly, the research conducted on behalf of alcohol manufacturers and interest groups is excluded for the purpose of impartiality.

In essence, the research studies investigate the relationship between alcohol advertising and consumption, and the relationship between advertising and alcohol experimentation. They also cover the relationship between advertising regulations, restrictions, warning labels, advertised warning messages and consumption, as well as the relationship between advertising exposure and negative social behaviour such as drinking and driving.

The social learning theory is thoroughly discredited and disproved. The decision to experiment with alcohol, the rate and volume of consumption and all other primary influencers are almost exclusively restricted to the family environment, parental control, peer pressure and societal norms. Likewise, the relationship between advertising and overall consumption is so negligible as to be deemed inconsequential.

A series of experimental and other consumption-correlation measures show that the average effect of advertising on consumption is below 1.5% of total volume. In layman terms this is an additional one and a half drinks per 100 consumed, which is difficult to classify as anything other than negligible….

Daily Maverick: Read the full article