After the various alcohol bans during the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa, the horrific effects of alcohol abuse on society have become blatantly clear…

The proof was seen over New Year’s Eve 2020 when the normally over-flowing trauma unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital was empty. What was traditionally one of the most chaotic and tragic days of the hospital calendar was one of the most peaceful.

The reason? The alcohol ban combined with the strict curfew.

While the alcohol industry has been vocal in its support of the government’s efforts to ensure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed during the pandemic, the various shutdowns have affected the industry’s bottom line. The hospitality industry was equally affected – with thousands of businesses being forced to close their doors due to lack of revenue from alcohol sales.

Clearly, alcohol can’t be banned completely. The country’s economy is already in a shambles.  

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But what can the government do to curb the damage that alcohol abuse causes?

A draft “LIQUOR AMENDMENT BILL” was drawn up in 2016 which addressed many of these issues. However, it has sat on a dusty shelf since then, after it faced major opposition.

According to reports, the bill is now being reconsidered.

The Bill highlights several ideas to decrease alcohol abuse in the country, including:

  • Restricting advertising of liquor
  • Restricting trading days
  • Increasing the legal drinking age to 21

Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance lobbying for change

On Monday, Maurice Smithers from lobby group Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance spoke to CapeTalk’s Africa Melane about some of the measures being considered.

According to the group, “Only 31% of people in South Africa aged 15 and above actually drink alcohol. But, when they do, the majority of them drink heavily and in a way that is harmful to themselves and others. The alcohol industry depends on this binge-drinking to make their substantial profits, hence their resistance to the current ban and to alcohol regulation in general.”

Smithers supports the ideas put forward in the Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 including the proposal to raise the legal drinking age to 21.

“The human brain continues to develop up to age 22,” notes Smithers. “It makes sense to delay drinking as long as possible.”

He also said that the proliferation of illegal alcohol sales, and illegal alcohol venues could be curbed by tracking each bottle. “Each bottle should have a tracking code. If it ends up in an unlicenced outlet, it should have been tracked and recorded and people can then be held accountable.”

Listen to the interview below:

 

Would you support raising the legal drinking age to 21?