Dr Osborn Mahanjana joins the Industry Association of Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) after working as the director of corporate affairs and pricing at Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical, where he was responsible for the South Africa and Sub-Saharan region. His work at Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical involved overseeing government affairs, public policy and pricing.
Donald Makhafola speaks to him about his new job and challenges faced by the country regarding alcohol abuse.
South Africa is one of the countries in the world with a high rate of alcohol abuse. Who do you think is to be blamed for this scourge?
Alcohol abuse is a multi-faceted issue and it is unrealistic to believe that any one thing could be blamed for the misuse and abuse of alcohol. The alcohol abuse rate in this country is unacceptable, which is why the ARA and its members are committed to reducing alcohol-related harm and promoting the responsible use of alcohol. Targeted interventions hold great promise in educating consumers and changing behaviours that harm individuals and society. By targeted interventions, we refer to alcohol misuse and abuse affecting specific communities, specific user groups and at risk groups such as the youth. The ARA also believes that additional social and economic factors should be taken into consideration such as illegal drugs usage, peer pressure, poverty and a lack of education. A distinction should be made between commercial alcohol which is regulated and non-commercial, or moonshine alcohol, which is not regulated. Alcohol that has been brewed at home can contain ingredients that are not fit for human consumption and can have severe health effects.
Alcohol companies and society based organisations like ARA are continually promoting responsible drinking. What do think it would take for the message to get through to alcohol users?
Dr Osborn Mahanjana joins the ARA after working as the director of corporate affairs and pricing at Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical, where he was responsible for the South Africa and Sub-Saharan region.
It is estimated that 35 percent of South Africans consume alcohol and only eight percent of South Africans that do drink are regarded as risky drinkers. This is the area of the population that we need to target through proper interventions. We are making progress on a number of fronts and, as an example, one of our partners is the Foundation for Related Alcohol Research (FARR). Its primary objective is to reduce the prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome in South Africa. As a result, the rate of fetal alcohol syndrome has reduced in De Aar in the Northern Cape specifically by 30 percent since 1997. Based on these results FARR continues to extend its programmes to include other areas in the Northern and Western Cape.
Are you satisfied with the way alcohol is marketed or advertised in the country?
The ARA and its members prescribe to a code of conduct that outlines what the industry can and cannot do in respect of alcohol advertising. This code of conduct is based on international best practice. The goal of advertising is to capture the largest possible proportion of the business of those over the legal drinking age who have already made the choice to drink. Advertising has a measurable effect on market share for particular brands and substitution between brands. We are confident that the way alcohol is advertised is suitable for the audience that is intended to receive it. However, due to alcohol’s potential for harm if misused, the marketing of alcohol beverages requires careful attention. This is why industry self-regulation, through which it is responsible for monitoring and enforcing its own conduct around the marketing of its products, can be an effective approach to ensuring responsible marketing.
Government believe liquor advertising is the reason the country has a high rate of alcoholism. What is your personal view?
The Control of Marketing of Alcohol Bill, as it stands, will not be successful in reducing the level of alcohol abuse in South Africa as there is no silver bullet approach to reducing the misuse and abuse of alcohol. This will continue to be a focus area for the ARA as we would like to work closely with government to shape this piece of legislation. The Bill has to date not been shared with the industry or been made public, but it is anticipated that it will have numerous economic effects on the country and various industries, making it imperative that we properly engage with all relevant stakeholders.
If government can get its way and pass the controversial Bill to restrict liquor advertising, what social implications do you think this would have on our society?
Advertising has not been shown to increase aggregate consumption by adults or young people and a causal link has not been established between alcohol advertising and harmful or excessive drinking patterns and resulting problems. If liquor advertising is restricted, consumer choice reduces. An advertising ban would reduce competition and freeze market shares of existing brands and prevent new entrants to the market. The result will be a loss of jobs and a negative effect on the GDP.
As you take over the position of CEO, what is your main goal in this organisation and what challenges do you anticipate?
As the new CEO of ARA, I will continue to drive interventions to reduce alcohol-related harm through combating the misuse and abuse of alcohol beverages and promoting only the responsible use thereof. I am proud to say that ARA has successfully lived up to its mission and will continue to do so through its ongoing efforts. Maintaining our role as a self-regulated entity will continue to be a challenge as we are starting to see the introduction of legislation that limits our ability to do this, such as the right to market. It is however an exciting time for me to join the ARA and we aim to engage with all stakeholders in a meaningful way.
Distributors of alcohol play such an important role when it comes to responsible alcohol use as they are the point of sale. They decide to actively prevent alcohol abuse and can do so in a number of ways:
According to research released by Econometrix in June last year, the potential economic impact as a result is: