Ghana Faces Court Challenge Over Ban on Celebrities Advertising Alcohol
Ghana’s FDA headquarters

Ghana outlawed alcohol promotion by celebrities back in 2015, but a music promoter is challenging government in court to fight for his ‘right’ to advertise various brands.

Predatory commercial exploitation that encourages harmful activities has been identified by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the two main crises threatening the health and future of children in every country.

The other major crisis is the climate emergency that is rapidly undermining the future survival of all species. 

“Companies make huge profits from marketing products directly to children and promoting addictive or unhealthy commodities, including fast foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, and tobacco, all of which are major causes of non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” wrote UNICEF and the WHO in The Lancet.

They advocate marketing limits on alcohol to protect children.

Yet celebrities are accelerating alcohol promotions. Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Reynolds, Dua Lipa, Emma Watson and are some of the many celebrities with endorsement deals with Big Alcohol or their own alcohol brands. 

They are promoting alcohol through their social media channels where they reach millions of children and young people.

David Beckham embodies the conflict between promoting child rights, health, and development on the one hand and making money through promoting and selling more alcohol on the other hand. He is both a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and collaborates with Big Alcohol giant Diageo.

Alcohol harm in Ghana 

In Ghana, the West African country of 33.5 million people, this conflict is playing out in public as a music producer has taken the government to court seeking to overturn a 2015 ban on alcohol promotion by celebrities.

In Ghana, children and youth are more protected from domestic and international celebrity alcohol promotions than kids in other countries because the country has banned celebrity alcohol advertisements. 

Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) is the regulatory authority tasked with implementing and enforcing this ban but it faces opposition from some celebrities in Ghana.

In 2016, according to WHO data, 74% of the adult population abstained from alcohol in the past year. But those Ghanaians (mainly men) who consumed alcohol, did so heavily. Around 7% of men had an alcohol use disorder and, on average, 13 litres of pure alcohol per man was consumed annually.

Almost half of all young boys between the age of 15 to 19 years who consume alcohol engaged in binge alcohol consumption in Ghana in 2016, according to a 2021 UNICEF Situation of Adolescents in Ghana report. 

Substance use among adolescents, particularly the use of tobacco and alcohol, is a public health concern linked to chronic health problems later in life, particularly  non-communicable diseases (NCDs). 

Ghana is facing a rising burden of NCDs such as diabetes, hypertension, and stroke among others, and health experts have linked this to unhealthy diets, cigarette smoking, alcohol use and physical inactivity.

Alcohol abuse has a serious impact on both the drinkers and communities.

Common-sense limits

In 2015,  the government decided to take action by placing common-sense limits on alcohol marketing, and Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority (FDA) implemented a ban on well-known personalities advertising alcoholic beverages aimed at  protecting children from being misled into thinking alcohol is normal and beneficial.

Most of  Ghana’s celebrities comply with the ban,  but there are notable exceptions who have expressed their opposition, including Wendy Shay, Shatta Wale, Brother Sammy, Kuami Eugene, and Camidoh. 

They are already using other forms of alcohol promotion, such as portraying alcohol in music videos and movies. They have spoken out against the ban and are using their considerable platforms to campaign against it. 

In November 2023, the Supreme Court heard a case brought by music producer Mark Darlington Osae, the co-founder of Ghana Music Alliance, against the Ghana FDA, aiming to revoke the celebrity alcohol promotion ban.

He claimed that that ban is discriminatory and unconstitutional, as it discriminates against celebrities.

Those celebrities who are pushing back against the policy also claim it has no effect in preventing consumption and only limits their income. 

On 8 May, the Supreme Court delayed the verdict on the case once again.

The issue is not new in Ghana. It was discussed in 2017 and in 2009, when Members of Parliament called on the regulatory authority to introduce measures to reduce alcohol advertisement to protect children.

The government, civil society and community groups across Ghana want to maintain the protections from children and youth being exposed to celebrity alcohol, and some celebrities are in full support of the ban.

Predatory practice or creative liberty?

Celebrity marketing of alcohol brands is not new in Ghana or around the world. 

“In 2018, it was estimated that about 40 celebrities were affiliated with alcohol brands, while today there are more than 350 celebrity affiliated brands worldwide,” wrote Chanelle Wilson in Croakey.

As celebrity-led promotion of alcohol is proliferating on digital platforms, alcohol brands find easier, tailor-made, and more harmful ways to directly reach impressionable and vulnerable young people. 

In Ghana, as well as in the wider African region, and around the world, the alcohol industry is investing in using more celebrity endorsements for alcohol brand promotions – and they need returns on those investments, meaning more alcohol sales, consumption, and profits. 

For countries like Ghana this means more harm and costs due to alcohol.

Given the state of Ghana’s developmental and public health challenges, celebrities could be using their platform to educate and spread health promotion messages, rather than engaging in “predatory commercial exploitation”.

Ghana might be an example of what countries can do. Better and internationally coordinated government-led regulation of alcohol marketing is needed, independent of the alcohol industry, to better reflect community standards and stop the bombardment of children and at-risk groups with alcohol promotions.

Labram Musah is Program Director at the Vision for Alternative Development (VALD), Ghana. VALD promotes alternative initiatives and support development at all levels of society by advocating for comprehensive policies on tobacco, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, climate justice, road safety, and general health and well being.

Kristina Sperkova is the International President of Movendi International,  a global movement based in Sweden, with 150 member organisations in 60 countries that works for development through alcohol prevention. 


Image Credits: Artem Labunsky/ Unsplash.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.