Conclusive research by the South African Medical Research Council has presented the media and advertising industries with a wonderful opportunity but alas, as always, they have been fast asleep.
The research showed that of 2000 pupils at 227 Western Cape Schools, 20% were regular tobacco smokers.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, similar research showed that from 2010 to 2011 the number of children who started smoking regularly went up from 178 000 to 235 000.
What the media and ad industries are missing is that this conclusive research actually proves that banning advertising has had little or no effect in reducing the incidence of smoking. In the United Kingdom and in South Africa, tobacco advertising has been banned since before these teenagers were born.
Add to this the fact that due to increasingly heavy taxation on cigarettes both in South Africa and the United Kingdom, the incidence of contraband cigarettes has increased dramatically.
The tobacco industry in this country estimates that roughly 25% of all cigarettes sold here are illegal imports.
Which means that when cigarette sales are used to determine whether South Africans are smoking more or less, there will be an error factor of 25% because illegal imports are not included in the statistics.
All of which means that banning tobacco advertising has actually had no effect at all, if any.
What the media and ad industries are missing is the opportunity to run advertising campaigns to highlight this point. Particularly now when government is on the brink of banning or heavily restricting alcohol advertising.
Promoting the fact that banning advertising of tobacco or alcohol has no effect on substance abuse is not just about one-upmanship or “we told so” but rather to show the public that these bans are no more than cheap vote-gathering exercises.
The tremendous amount of publicity that has been given to the current debate on alcohol advertising bans, particularly if you listen to the arguments of the proponents, has led the citizens of this country to believe that these bans will solve the problem of alcohol abuse.
They will not.
Just as we have seen with the incidence of increased smoking among teenagers, in 10 years time similar research will find that the banning or restricting of alcohol advertising would have had no effect whatsoever.
Advertising is being used as a scapegoat because when it comes to banning advertising government knows pretty well that they can kick the ad industry around and that 99% of the population won’t actually care.
Because the ad and media industries have never taken the trouble to tell the public just how important advertising is in their lives.
The majority of the population is not only unaware of the leading role local advertising plays in world terms but if they were asked, chances are the majority would pinpoint advertising as one of those businesses controlled by mostly whites and some black people who are paid huge amounts of money and drove flashy cars.
What is now important is that the advertising industry makes sure that this huge group of consumers understands what advertising is all about. Obviously for advertising to work it has to be trusted and it won’t be trusted if the perception that it is all some sort of legalised moneymaking scam.
It is vital that the advertising industry does not get the same reputation that the short term insurance industry seems to enjoy – that of being a necessary evil.
Frankly, every single newspaper, radio station, TV networks and ad agency in the country has to accept the responsibility of promoting advertising.
By promoting advertising, its professionalism, its functions and its contribution to the economy, by doing this now, will cost practically nothing compared to the cost of crisis management should the situation arise out of ignorance where some community or other decides for whatever reason, to point fingers at the advertising industry perhaps because it is perceived as a rip-off or maybe something devilish that leads children astray and forces teenagers to smoke and drink.
Anti-advertising sentiment is growing in this country to the point where the media and ad industries will ignore it at their peril.