South Africa


Liquor Amendment Bill may be tightened further to combat ballooning alcohol abuse in SA

Liquor Amendment Bill may be tightened further to combat ballooning alcohol abuse in SA
The Liquor Amendment Bill, on hold since 2018, may be tightened up in the light of experience during the Covid lockdowns. (Photo: Brent Hofacker / Wikipedia)

Covid experience will have to be taken into account, says Department of Trade and Industry.

Information about alcohol abuse gathered during the Covid lockdown may prompt further changes to the Liquor Amendment Bill, says the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition. The Bill has been on hold since 2018.

The Bill seeks to amend the National Liquor Act of 2003, by tightening alcohol restrictions and advertising and regulating where alcohol is sold.

Spokesperson Bongani Lukhele said the Bill was under review by the department.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, it became more apparent that the problem of liquor abuse is quite huge in South Africa and requires more concerted measures, and that the Bill may not address the scale of the problem as the problem requires a concerted effort in government,” said Lukhele.

He said the department would reintroduce the bill to Parliament. Lukhele said as well as legislation to address liquor use, there was a need for health, education and behaviour issues to be addressed as well.

“Provincial laws must also be reviewed as it impacts directly on the retail trade,” Lukhele added.

Meanwhile, lobby groups are growing impatient with delays in the implementation of the bill.

Maurice Smithers, director of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa, said the Liquor Act had been reviewed in 2015 and found to be inadequate and inconsistent with the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. The Global Strategy suggests three priorities: reducing the availability of alcohol, increasing its cost, and limiting or banning marketing.

As a result, changes were proposed in the Liquor Bill, drafted in 2016, including:

  • restricting advertising of alcohol on public platforms;
  • increasing the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 years;
  • regulating specific trading days and hours for alcohol to be distributed and manufactured; and
  • placing liability on alcohol retailers and manufacturers for harm related to the contravention of regulations.

The amendments also propose banning alcohol advertising on radio and television at certain times and on billboards less than 100 metres away from junctions, street corners and traffic circles.

The bill was approved by Cabinet for public comment in 2016.

Smithers told GroundUp that the socio-economic and health problems associated with alcohol would worsen over time if the Bill and other legislation was not passed.

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“The overall cost to society of such harm will continue to burden the state and divert resources from other delivery areas. Some specific consequences are that petrol stations are now applying for licences, something they would not be able to do if the bill were passed.”

“The current proposals in the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill which will allow schools to have alcohol at schools and at school functions off school premises for fund-raising purposes would also not be allowed if the bill were passed,” said Smithers.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has said the department supports zero tolerance of alcohol at schools, but schools do sell alcohol during fund-raising and do hire out halls for functions where alcohol is consumed. She said the clauses in the Basic Education Laws Amendment Act are intended only to regulate this.

Onesisa Mtwa, innovation manager at the DG Murray Trust, told GroundUp that stronger regulations were necessary to address and reduce harmful patterns of consumption such as heavy and binge drinking.

In its 2018 Global Survey on Alcohol and Health, the WHO indicated that in 2016, South African drinkers over the age of 15 years consumed, on average, 64.6 grams of pure alcohol per day.

The data further showed that South African drinkers over 15 years old consumed 29.9 litres of pure alcohol in a year — the third highest consumption in Africa.

Citing a 2017 impact study by economics-based consulting firm Genesis Analytics, Mtwa said the Bill could reduce alcohol consumption by between 3.2% and 7.4% which would, in turn, reduce public health costs by R1.9-billion per year.

“Despite the industry’s claims that this Bill will destroy the industry,” Mtwa said, the impact assessment suggested that South Africa’s gross domestic product would drop by less than 1%.

A study by the University of Cape Town and the Medical Research Council found that alcohol bans during Covid were strongly associated with a large drop in unnatural deaths (murders, vehicle collisions, suicides and accidents).

Researchers looked at death data during alcohol restrictions and curfews under the national lockdown from the end of December 2019 to late April 2021. The drop in unnatural deaths associated with a full alcohol ban ranged from 42 deaths per day under a curfew of four to seven hours to 74 per day under hard lockdown.

Mtwa said implementing the bill would need “extensive” national and provincial cooperation.

“Some areas of regulation such as retail sales and liquor licences lie with provinces, while liability issues, manufacturers and the drinking age would be regulated by the national government. This highlights the need for a whole-of-government approach to reducing alcohol-related harm,” she adds.

Smithers said although the bill is not a silver bullet, it would send a signal to society that the government is serious about addressing the issue of alcohol-related harm.

“It’s not a perfect bill and it won’t result in a perfect act, but it is a step in the right direction,” he said. DM

First published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Far more serious than alcohol is the serious rise in the number of gambling sights and venues, both on and offline, opening up in South Africa.

    There is seemingly not a sorting team or code who do not advertise them, and the social damage caused by gambling, worldwide, has been far more pernicious, and damaging longterm, than that arising from other addictions. Further, the connections between these gambling companies and organised crime – and with it of course money-laundering – has been proven in many parts of the globe, and our country is highly unlikely to be immune from this, given the strong connections now coming to light, linking zama-zamas, the taxi industry, illegal tobacco, corruption and killings in the police force and of course with State Capture and politically connected illegalities.

  • Johan Buys says:

    we seem to have a default to jump to regulations and laws policing the masses. SA loses 90,000 people to TB each year. For context, a 10% improvement in TB screening and treatment would save more lives than preventing 100% of deaths due to drunk driving. We jump to making the driving limit 0% – zero tolerance campaign – (while the 0.05% is hardly enforced) Which outcome is easier : improving TB by 10% or wiping out drunk driving?? Some of the stats in this article seem improbable. If the average is 30liters of pure alcohol then in beer terms it would translate to two liters of beer per person, every single day of the year. What must the heavy drinkers’ numbers be for the average at two liters every day? They must be continuously drunk 24/7/365.

    • Donald Moore says:

      Johan do you really believe that the evidence produced by the alcohol restrictions during Covid restrictions should be ignored just because people are also dying from TB? The logic seems very illogical. I am inclined to follow the view of health experts that consumption of alcohol is both a serious social and health risk and needs legislative attention. Lets try and ameliorate the TB health risk by creating better living conditions and at the same time lets try and ameliorate the alcohol related risks (health and otherwise) by introducing much needed limits on the advertising of alcohol.

  • Easy Does It says:

    You change the age to allow drinking from 18 to 21 but you hand out condoms at schools. You are old enough to have sex but not old enough to drink?

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Why is the approach to alcohol so draconian while that to gambling appears almost supportive? Just check TV advertising?

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