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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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