Ads pro­hi­bi­tion drives one to drink

Business Day - - THE BOTTOM LINE - David Glea­son

IN THE US, the years be­tween 1919 and 1933 were de­voted to the pro­hi­bi­tion of the sale, pro­duc­tion and trans­porta­tion of al­co­hol. They were also the Roar­ing Twen­ties, the years of boot­leg­ging, speakeasie­s, the Black Bot­tom and Charleston dance crazes, flap­pers, hem­lines ris­ing to the knees, rag­ing gang wars and the St Valen­tine’s Day Mas­sacre.

Health Min­is­ter Aaron Mot­soaledi has been pas­sion­ately ad­vo­cat­ing a ban on al­co­hol ad­ver­tis­ing in this coun­try. He seems to have been suc­cess­ful in per­suad­ing his Cab­i­net col­leagues to ap­prove a bill along th­ese lines, al­though it has been re­ported that it caused dis­ar­ray. The next step is to gazette the bill for pub­lic com­ment.

I re­ported in this col­umn (Oc­to­ber 18) that a mod­est straw poll I con­ducted pro­duced largely ad­verse com­ment. “It’s a stupid idea,” said econ­o­mist Dawie Roodt. Prof Owen Dean said he thought it would be dis­as­trous for ad­ver­tis­ing com­pa­nies. The col­umn prompted a let­ter (Oc­to­ber 31) from Prof Karen Hof­man, who thinks the pro­posed ban is in­dica­tive of a mea­sured matu- rity and should be sup­ported.

Mar­ket­ing guru Chris Mo­erdyk ob­served, how­ever, that the loss of above-the-line ad rev­enue would cost the me­dia al­most R2bn a year, put 2,500 peo­ple out of work, cause 30,000 peo­ple to lose their prin­ci­pal bread­win­ners, and cost sports of all kinds about R2.6bn a year in spon­sor­ships from al­co­hol man­u­fac­tur­ers. De­spite fuzzy, warm com­ments to the ef­fect that th­ese losses would be re­placed by other busi­nesses, I am not sure this would be the case.

Prof Hof­man also quoted the French ex­am­ple of ban­ning al­co­hol ads, which she thinks “very telling” in a coun­try where wine is part of the na­tional psy­che. But she is disin­gen­u­ous when she fails to add that the ban hasn’t achieved what was in­tended. The French Loi Evin was, said Sara Soltani, di­rec­tor of pub­lic af­fairs at the UK Ad­ver­tis­ing As­so­ci­a­tion: “a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences, since al­co­hol con­sump­tion among young peo­ple, the very group the French gov­ern­ment were tar­get­ing with this dra­co­nian mea­sure, has ac­tu­ally risen since the law was en­acted.”

And what also wor­ries me is that, once the gov­ern­ment thinks it can in­ter­fere in peo­ple’s lives by ban­ning things, the next easy step is to pro­hibit al­co­hol al­to­gether. I do not take eas­ily to be­ing told what I may or may not do, and I am sure many oth­ers will re­act sim­i­larly.

But a more im­por­tant rea­son to op­pose it is that pro­hi­bi­tion has never worked, and ef­forts to stamp out the in­dus­try go back many thou­sands of years. It dam­ages economies, and makes crim­i­nals out of cit­i­zens who, un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, are law-abid­ing.

And it en­cour­ages ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­cess. Amer­i­can pro­hi­bi­tion­ists ad­vo­cated a va­ri­ety of bizarre mea­sures against nice chaps like me who en­joy a tot or three. Th­ese in­cluded be­ing ster­ilised, for­bid­den to marry (log­i­cal if you’ve been ster­ilised), tor­tured, branded, hung by the tongue be­neath a plane or forced to swal­low two ounces of cas­tor oil.

As I read this stuff, I be­come so anx­ious that I am thank­ful I can still reach for the bot­tle.

AF­TER the tragedy at the In­gula Power Plant (six dead, seven in­jured), Eskom CEO Brian Dames said work had been halted at all the util­ity’s con­struc­tion sites. The ac­tion raised all man­ner of queries from cer­tifi­cated engi­neers, many of whom in­dig­nantly put it to me that it was grossly un­nec­es­sary. It’s tan­ta­mount, said one, to halt­ing all rail traf­fic be­cause of a sin­gle ac­ci­dent on a branch line.

Eskom spokesman An­drew Etzinger tells me it is Eskom’s pol­icy to halt all con­struc­tion work so the causes of an ac­ci­dent can be re­viewed, ex­plained and dis­cussed by ev­ery­one work­ing on th­ese projects. Dames says safety is a non­nego­tiable pri­or­ity for Eskom. The util­ity’s pol­icy is that fatal ac­ci­dents are of con­cern to ev­ery­one, and checks on en­sur­ing com­pli­ance with safety re­quire­ments are es­sen­tial.

On this oc­ca­sion, the main con­cern ex­pressed by mem­bers of the pub­lic was about Medupi, the big power sta­tion be­ing built at Lepha­lale in Lim­popo.

It is al­ready years be­hind sched­ule and any de­lays sim­ply worsen the coun­try’s dire en­ergy cri­sis.

Etzinger tells me, how­ever, that con­struc­tion at Medupi was halted for re­view pur­poses for only an hour on the day af­ter the In­gula ac­ci­dent.

E-mail: [email protected]­son.co.za Twit­ter: @TheTorqueC­ol­umn

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