Push for stricter alcohol rules in South Africa

A new research report shows that increasing the minimum price of alcohol in South Africa would effectively reduce consumption in a nation of heavy drinkers.

The report, published by researchers from the University of Sheffield and other contributors, considered studies and regulations from countries that have introduced minimum unit pricing (MUP).

MUP is a policy where a legal floor price is introduced, below which a fixed volume of ethanol cannot be sold to the public. It has already been introduced in several areas that experience high levels of alcohol harm, including Scotland and Australia’s Northern Territory.

Evidence suggests that MUP has effectively reduced alcohol consumption, particularly among the heaviest drinkers, as they commonly drink the very cheap alcohol targeted by this policy.

However, the researchers noted that these are all high-income countries, with no clear evidence of how a similar policy will work in South Africa. The researchers factored this into their modelling by splitting the population of drinkers into wealth quintiles and drinker groups – including ‘heavy’, ‘occasional’ and ‘moderate’ drinkers.

They also factored in various local sources on alcohol consumption, including homebrew, and the actual prices South Africans pay for alcohol.

The results show that an MUP of R10 per standard drink would immediately reduce consumption by 4.40%.

This would lead to 20,585 fewer deaths and 900,332 cases averted across the five health-modelled harms over 20 years, the researchers said.

“Our model estimates that minimum pricing would reduce alcohol consumption in SA, improving health outcomes while raising retail and tax revenue.

“Consumption and harm reductions would be greater in poorer compared with richer groups. We estimate that minimum pricing is a targeted policy that has the potential to bring health and financial benefits to a country, which suffers a very high burden of alcohol-related harm.”

National regulations 

In January, president Cyril Ramaphosa said that his government would look at introducing new regulations around the sale of alcohol in South Africa.

“The legislative part is something that we need to look at very closely to see how do we begin to … reduce the abuse of alcohol,” he said.

“It could revolve around things like age limits; we need to deal with age limits, to raise the age limit. Or do we need to look at trading hours for the purchase of alcohol? Do we need to look at things like taxation?”

However, the opposition Democratic Alliance has highlighted that the Liquor Amendment Bill was first mooted nearly five years ago and included many of these proposed changes.

The DA said that Ramaphosa was the leader of government business when it was introduced in 2016 and has been the president for the last three years while it has not moved from his cabinet.

“If the president is serious about fast-tracking this bill, the DA is ready to do the work, make constructive proposals and come up with solutions that will balance both lives and livelihoods. The ball is in his court,” it said.

The Draft Liquor Amendment Bill proposes several wide-reaching changes, including:

  • Increasing the drinking age to 21 years;
  • The introduction of a 100-metre radius limitation of trade around educational and religious institutions;
  • Banning of any alcohol sales and advertising on social and small media;
  • The introduction of a new liability clause for alcohol sellers.

Western Cape regulations

Western Cape premier Alan Winde has said that the province is also considering stricter rules around the sale of liquor as the province continues to combat the abuse of alcohol and its knock-on effects.

He added that ‘per unit of alcohol’ pricing is firmly on the table for consideration.

Speaking in his state of the province address in February, the premier said that the economic damage caused by the national ban on alcohol sales during the Covid-19 lockdown was unsustainable.

However, he said that the provincial data showed clear problems with alcohol abuse in the country.

“That is why we are instead pursuing more targeted interventions by amending the Western Cape Liquor Act. These amendments will, directly and indirectly, reduce alcohol harms, as well improve the efficiency of the Western Cape Liquor Authority,” he said.

Some of the changes which have previously been mooted under the amended act include:

  • Ensuring that a record of all liquor sales is kept by outlets and prescribe the measure of detail required;
  • Permanently confiscating seized liquor following the payment of an admission of guilt fine;
  • Obliging licence holders to take reasonable measures to determine that a client is of legal drinking age;
  • Inserting an objective test within the Act to determine whether alcohol has been sold to an unlicensed outlet/individual;
  • Aligning the Act with the Liquor Products Act to ensure a uniform definition of “Illicit liquor”;
  • Providing for a public participation process to alter existing licences.

Read: How much the price of wine, beer and other alcohol has increased in South Africa over the last year

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Push for stricter alcohol rules in South Africa