Ban on alcohol advertising: A justifiable rights infringement?

“In March 2020, the South African government introduced a ban on alcohol sales in order to reduce the pressure on hospitals for admission of people with injuries, trauma and fatalities caused by or arising from alcohol use. This restriction exposed the social impact alcohol plays in the society.”

Alcohol use contributes to many challenges experienced by our communities. Examples of these challenges include but are not limited to domestic violence, women and child abuse, fatalities that result in child-headed homes, poverty and injuries.

A contributor to the acceptance of alcohol consumption as a leisure activity is associated with the advertising of alcohol use. Alcohol advertising is usually cleverly executed to get the consumer stimulated to expect a certain outcome (such as relaxation after a long day of work) or motivated to go buy alcohol (to enhance the enjoyment of a social gathering). In fact, in most advertisements, people can be seen to be sharing a glass of wine or beer over good laughs and good food.  Alcohol advertisements thus focus on an association with the allegation that alcohol reduces boredom, loneliness and that it is the prompt for having a good time. The visuals used in the advertisements often appeal to the younger demographic of our society and often leave them enticed. The corporation would have successfully completed its mission in driving alcohol sales.

Corporations intentionally omit the harms associated with alcohol use and have become more strategic in the marketing of their products. Corporations have partnered up with local and international celebrities to become brand ambassadors and or influencers of their products. It is common knowledge that the younger demographic idolizes or even look up to such celebrities as role models. Again, the corporation would have successfully completed its mission in driving the alcohol sales.

 

THE CONTROL OF MARKETING OF THE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES BILL

In an attempt to curb the problems that arise when alcohol is abused (as opposed to used), the South African government in 2012 introduced a draft Bill, titled The control of marketing of the alcoholic beverages Bill. The intention of the bill is to place a ban on alcohol advertising, except at the point of sale. The Bill is yet to be made available for public comment, and this delay may stem from the fact that the alcohol industry is a major contributor to economic activity in South Africa. So both government, and the alcohol industry, will suffer harm with the promulgation of such legislation.

 

A CONSTITUTIONAL PERSPECTIVE

According to the South African Constitution, the right to public participation and consultation is one of the many privileges of citizens in our constitutional democracy. In terms of section 32 of the Bill of Rights, everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state; and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights. The deprivation of exercising such rights is a constitutional violation of human rights because such public participation and consultation would be for the public benefit.

Adam Bertscher (of the University of Bath) and Leslie London (of the University of Cape Town) reiterate the international law position which advocates for the protection of children rights. They argue that “corporations cannot claim human rights. Human rights are intended for natural persons and not legal entities like corporations.” According to “Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child supports children’s right to survival and development, and their right to health.”

“Article 17(e) of the Convention obliges governments to protect children from harmful information. Alcohol advertising would be information that is harmful for children. Furthermore, Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights obliges governments to protect people’s rights from violations by non-state actors – such as the alcohol industry. Government failure to regulate the activities of corporations that market harmful substances may amount to a violation of the right to health.”

 

IN CLOSING

These are powerful thoughts and the debate has many nuances. Due to the challenges and the social impact caused by alcohol consumption, a limited ban on alcohol advertising may be justified. But the writer foresees a lively debate in this regard before such limitations are legislated. It should go hand in hand with social enlightenment and drives to ensure responsible alcohol enjoyment. A mere limitation in advertising can never achieve this outcome.

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