South Africa: Why alcohol brands need to take responsibility and acknowledge the danger their products pose to society
Adults in South Africa consume more alcohol than adults in most other countries.
by Vuyile Madwantsi
February 2, 2023
A peer-reviewed study on heavy drinking and contextual risk factors among adults in South Africa, in 2011, revealed that the country’s adults (those 15 years old and over) consumed 9.5 l of absolute alcohol annually, which is more than the continent’s average.
One of the biggest risks on South African roadways is drunk driving. According to research, 50% of those killed on the road had blood alcohol levels exceeding 0.05g per 100 millilitres. Alcohol companies have spent millions of rand on anti-drinking and driving programmes over the years to combat such negative publicity.
Among the leading causes of death and disability in South Africa, alcohol ranked fifth, probably due to its role in —ually transmitted infections and interpersonal violence.
The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) examined the data and found that alcohol is a major contributor to gender-based violence (GBV).
Moreover, initiatives aimed at safe responsible drinking are futile as long as enforcement of the current drinking and driving legislation is not carried out to the full extent of the law, says Rhys Evans, managing director of Alco-Safe.
“Instead of channelling budget into anti-drinking and driving advertising campaigns, alcohol brands should rather look at sponsoring the enforcement of road safety laws, if their intention is, as they claim, to promote consumer safety.”
To lead to changes in behaviour, Evans argues that health warnings must be specific to be effective. “Drink Responsibly” does not give people enough information to be considered a health warning. Alcohol is inextricably associated with crime, violence, —ual assault, and other high-risk behaviour.”
Evans says the focus needs to be shifted to where it belongs — enforcing the law. Because “Drink Responsibly” is not saving lives.
“It’s time for alcohol manufacturers to take responsibility for and acknowledge the danger their products pose to society and take genuine steps to counter the harm caused in a manner that is not disingenuous.”
Alcohol has serious health ramifications, the CDC states that over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, breast cancer, mouth, throat, oesophagus, colon, and weakens the immune system.
Awareness campaigns aimed at educating the population about the effects of alcohol on the body, concerning the specifics of drinking and driving legislation need to focus on encouraging “responsible” consumption. Because much of the population is unaware of what it means to be over the legal limit, and how many drinks it takes to impair one’s ability to drive.
Evans believes that in taking responsibility, alcohol manufacturers could include sponsoring training for the police officers tasked with upholding and enforcing the rules of the road. “Such measures could extend to funding the correct equipment for roadblock alcohol testing of motorists, ensuring that there is an adequate supply of breathalysers and testing apparatus and that officers are properly trained in their use and educated on the effects of alcohol on the body, and how the body works to process alcohol.”
In 2015, it was reported that 44 526 cases of drunk driving had been withdrawn from South African courts for reasons including the incompetence of officials at stages of the investigation, inappropriate blood sample retention and storage, and invalid sample analysis.
“Consumer safety should not be a marketing gimmick.”
The government has to adopt a more robust approach to the laws involved in alcohol promotion, following a similar approach to the advertising of cigarettes and tobacco goods, to ensure that South African roads are safer and to effectively avoid needless fatalities of road users.
Alcohol brands with marketing organisations have a moral and legal obligation to acknowledge the potentially harmful effects of their product on society and take sincere action to address the issue. This task can no longer be discharged by merely telling customers to “drink responsibly,” Evans says.