Big rule changes around how alcohol is sold in South Africa – here’s what you need to know

The Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education ( has launched its new code of commercial communications which will introduce a number of advertising changes for alcoholic beverages in South Africa.

All members of  – which includes South Africa’s leading alcohol beverage manufacturers, the wine producers’ association VINPRO, and many other others – are bound by the new code, according to Jeanette Visagie, a consultant at law firm Adams & Adams.

She added that one of the key objectives of the new code is to ensure that alcohol beverage advertising is directed only to adult consumers, and should not, in any way, appeal to persons under the legal drinking age.

“The new code is ancillary to the existing legislative requirements relating to alcohol beverage advertising in South Africa,” she said.

“Many of the principles of the previous Code have been retained, with modification or elaboration where appropriate, in the new code.

“It is also made clear in the new code that alcohol-free or non-alcoholic variants of alcohol brands fall under the umbrella of the new code and should only be marketed to persons above the legal drinking age.”

Below Visagie outlined some of the major new changes within the code.

Underage statement 

The so-called underage statement has been amended, from ‘not for sale to persons under the age of 18’ to ‘not for persons under the age of 18′.

Visagie said that certain requirements relating to the use of the underage statement have also been amended.

“For example, where television adverts that are longer than 10 seconds, in addition to the display of the underage statement on-screen for the duration of the advert.

“It is now also required that it ends with a voiceover message of the underage statement, in the same language as the main advert,” she said.

The new code also increases the minimum height of the underage statement to 15% of the advert height, while the flight times for alcohol beverage adverts on television and radio are also more restricted under the new code.

Responsible messaging

The new code requires that all commercial communications must include responsible messaging in a manner that is clearly visible and noticeable to the consumer.

Examples of responsible messaging warning statements mentioned in the Code are ‘Don’t drink and drive’, ‘Not for persons under 18’, ‘Pregnant women should not drink alcohol’, and ‘Drink responsibly. Don’t Drink and Drive’.

Brand owners have been given until 28 January 2021 (12 months) to amend their product packaging to include responsible messaging warning statements.

As a general rule, only persons that are, and appear to be, 25 years of age or older, may be shown in the act of drinking in an alcohol beverage advert.

All members of alcohol brand promotions (in-store or otherwise), must be, and reasonably appear to be, at least 21 years of age or older.


Alcohol beverage adverts may not depict any person consuming alcohol before or during any athletic activity.

“In the case of sports teams with members under the legal drinking age, such teams may not be sponsored by alcohol product brands (or non-alcoholic variants of alcohol brands) in a manner that creates an association between the sponsor and the sports team,” Visagie said.

“Furthermore, no alcohol beverage advert may depict sportsmen or ex-sportsmen in the act of drinking. This restriction also applies to celebrities (including popular sports, music, or cinema personalities), and the use of celebrities that are under the legal drinking age is not permitted.”


The new code makes it compulsory to implement either an age verification mechanism, alternatively a registration process, including age verification on websites.

Brand owners’ websites and social media platforms must also include responsible messaging on all content material and posts -with the exception of retweeted posts, which should be displayed permanently on-screen.


Visagie said that the new code sets out possible sanctions for contravention of the code, including:

  • Adverse publicity for offenders;
  • Compulsory pre-clearance of future adverts;
  • Pressure on media companies not to act for offenders;
  • Termination of membership with;
  • Punitive fines;
  • A three-month advertising suspension imposed by the Director-General of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI);
  • Recommendations to the DTI to suspend the liquor licence of repeat offenders.

“The chief executive officer of the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB), Gail Schimmmel, has advised that the ARB is in the process of updating its code of advertising Practice to include the new code and that and the ARB will have ‘dual’ authority to consider complaints lodged based on contraventions of the new code,” said Visagie.

“It appears that both consumers and competitors would, therefore, be able to lodge complaints relating to alcohol beverage adverts of members with or the ARB – once the Code of Advertising Practice includes the new code.”

Read: Expect more roadblocks and police checkpoints ahead of South Africa’s new drunk driving law

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Big rule changes around how alcohol is sold in South Africa – here’s what you need to know