A DRAFT bill from the Department of Health that prohibits the advertising and promotion of alcoholic products has been described as "prohibitionist" and "profoundly disappointing" by the alcohol industry.

Business Day reported on Monday that the Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill was being reworked behind closed doors by an interdepartmental government task team that would make proposals to a Cabinet committee.

The bill was prematurely leaked into the public domain and caused alarm in industry circles due to its heavy-handed approach.

Benedict Maaga, media relations manager at South African Breweries (SAB), in a statement on Monday labelled the bill "prohibitionist" and said similar bans in other countries had "had disastrous consequences".

"The bill has been drafted without input from industry," SAB said in the statement, adding it was "profoundly disappointed and concerned by the decision taken by both the ministers of health and social development to consistently refuse to engage with the alcohol industry, despite the fact that we agree that alcohol abuse is at unacceptable levels in South Africa".

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi declined to comment on the draft bill on Monday, telling Business Day that the leaked document was not official and that he had not seen it.

He did, however, criticise the reaction from the alcohol industry. "People who want to protect their industry have always been saying this (that advertising does not affect harmful alcohol use) ... it is to be expected," said the minister.

"We're working from two different platforms. I'm trying to defend the population from ... the adverse affects of alcohol, in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)," he said, adding that the alcohol industry was working for "profits and nothing else".

There are doubts over the efficacy and financial viability of a total alcohol advertising ban, prompted by independent research, historical precedent in other countries and a flurry of debate.

Chris Moerdyk, a marketing adviser and analyst, said the revenue loss to the media industry would reach R1,8bn and called the economic threat "deadly serious".

"TV channels would be in absolute dire straits in terms of programming, let alone advertising revenue," he said.

According to Mr Moerdyk, countries such as Canada, Denmark and New Zealand have tried banning alcohol advertising, but overturned the bans when they found it had no effect on limiting alcohol abuse.

"There is significant international research to show it (advertising) has little impact on consumption, and no evidence (regarding) abuse," said Adrian Botha, director at the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use.

According to the WHO's Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol, irresponsible consumption is responsible for 2,5-million deaths each year worldwide.

"Reducing the impact of marketing, particularly on young people and adolescents, is

an important consideration in reducing harmful use of alcohol," the WHO says.

Therefore, said Mr Moerdyk, the health minister "is under a lot of social pressure, not only from within South Africa, but also from the World Health Organisation and the International Monetary Fund".

Nevertheless, Mr Botha said the alcohol industry was not brought into the discussion.

"We've not been consulted on this at all. It is draconian, to say the least," he said. "The most important thing is that we are fully behind an efficient and effective attempt to reduce alcohol harm, but banning advertising won't achieve that objective."

Fred Makgato, head of legal and regulatory affairs at the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa, said the government working group "needs to be more engaged with society at large", and that the negative social effect of drinking "has to do more with the distribution (of alcohol products) and behaviour of consumers" than with advertising.

Leana Olivier, CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research, said that regulating advertising content alone would not have a significant effect on high-risk drinking behaviour.

"It is a multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach. More responsible advertising is useful, but we need more education in our country," said Ms Olivier. "We talk about things like responsible drinking, but everyone doesn't know what that means."

shortk@bdfm.co.za