Bombarding young people with alcohol advertisements and operating taverns close to schools entices them to start drinking alcohol much earlier in their lives, a new study has found. The study released by the Soul City Institute for Social Justice this week found that the use of celebrities, popular music, catchy slogans and scenarios projecting refreshment, relaxation and friendship in alcohol advertisements entices young people to drink alcohol. It also found that the easy availability of alcohol and promotional activities often run by taverns also played a major role in influencing their decisions on experimenting with alcohol or its consumption.
Soul City studied the relationship between alcohol advertising and youth drinking patterns as part of the multicountry study involving South Africa, Tanzania and India. The study also looked at whether there was a difference in drinking patterns between rural and urban young people.
Twenty-seven young people between the ages of 18 and 24 from Atteridgeville in Pretoria and Verena in Mpumalanga participated in the study. They were asked to capture photographs showing alcohol advertisements and the impact of alcohol in their communities. Researchers visited the sites with outdoor alcohol advertisements and licensed outlets and accessed their proximity to schools.
Lebohang Letsela, Soul City researcher, said there was a high density of alcohol outlets and outdoor advertisements in both areas. There were 147 taverns in Atteridgeville and 28 taverns in Verena.
Letsela said taverns were located in proximity to schools, with some operating across the road where pupils buy food and snacks during lunch breaks. The National Liquor Policy states that alcohol outlets must be at least half a kilometre away from schools, places of worship, recreation and entertainment facilities, which meant that this was in contravention of the law.
Letsela said this “made it easy for young people to access alcohol”, and “displaying alcohol adverts enticed those who were not yet drinkers”.
“Many young people indicated that such alcohol adverts were attractive and made them want to try out the advertised product. They also mentioned the portrayal of celebrities enjoying alcoholic drinks as another point of attraction,” she said.
A female participant said during the discussion: “The facial expressions [in the adverts] make people seem happy when consuming alcohol and the advertisers use cool slogans too,” she said.
The research findings are not ground-breaking, but add to a litany of local and international research. A number of studies have demonstrated that there is a strong link between alcohol advertising and levels of alcohol consumption among young people.
Recently, research conducted by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Tshwane as part of the International Alcohol Control Study showed similar findings. The ongoing study, which began three years ago, found that high levels of exposure to alcohol advertisements at an early age contributed to whether a person decided to start drinking alcohol, or opted for heavier stuff in future.
Neo Morojele, professor and co-principal investigator in the MRC study, said the majority of 16- and 17-year-old participants who were nondrinkers were already exposed to “extremely high levels of alcohol advertisements”.
She said this was worrying because adolescents were not to be targeted by alcohol advertisements. The MRC looked at 16 advertising platforms. Among adolescents, it found that 91% were exposed to alcohol advertising through television, followed by signs at shops (87%) and billboards (81%).
Morojele said the findings support international concerns about young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing. She said indulging in alcohol has become a societal norm in South Africa. “Whether it’s in a wedding or funeral, people are found drinking alcohol and often heavily. We have normalised this behaviour to the extent that young people think it’s okay to abuse alcohol.”
Letsela said: “If children see adults enjoying alcohol, they are tempted to try it themselves.”
However, the SA Liquor Brand Owners’ Association disagrees with the findings of the Soul City study, citing a study by Nandi Siegfried and colleagues that looked at whether banning or restricting advertising for alcohol would result in less drinking of alcohol, saying it arrived at a different conclusion.
Sibani Mngadi, association chairperson, said: “This study is far more thorough and robust than the research by Soul City conducted in two limited settings.
“We believe that we need to invest in educating young people about the dangers of underage drinking and our initiatives must be targeted at those who are most at risk. The interventions need to speak to young people in a language and medium that they understand,” he said.
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