Ads prohibition drives one to drink
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.
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