SA drunks rev up calls to tighten booze laws

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SA drunks rev up calls to tighten booze laws

A law which policy experts say could turn the tide in our booze battle has been stalled for four years

Senior reporter
A study by Wits and KwaZulu-Natal universities shows there was a 60% to 70% dip in trauma admissions when liquor was banned at the start of the hard lockdown.
Hard facts A study by Wits and KwaZulu-Natal universities shows there was a 60% to 70% dip in trauma admissions when liquor was banned at the start of the hard lockdown.
Image: 123RF/Dmitry Kalinovsky

Alcohol’s deadly hand in road crashes and violent attacks – thrust to the fore after booze was unbanned two weeks ago – has led to renewed calls for stringent liquor regulations to save lives.

But a piece of legislation which policy experts said could turn the tide has been stalled for four years.

If signed into law, a draft liquor bill, first published in 2016 for public comment by the trade and industry department (DTI), would mean the legal drinking age would be raised to 21. It would also result in stringent booze advertising restrictions, and limits on trading hours.

This week, transport minister Fikile Mbalula called again for “stronger regulations” after three policemen were killed by a suspected drunk driver.

Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) director Maurice Smithers said the bill – alongside the Road Traffic Amendment Bill, which sets a zero limit for drink driving – should be fast tracked.

“Government themselves acknowledge that there is an issue with the way alcohol is consumed, and it is now critical. We are baffled as to why they don’t take the tools they already have and deal with this problem,” he said.

The DTI’s Sidwell Medupi said gaps and challenges in the regulatory environment were being “carefully assessed”.

“[This] includes the recent experience during the Covid-19 pandemic and the range of views held.”

We need to look at the trauma, both emotionally and economically, that death or severe injury causes a family, and also the re-traumatisation that occurs when there is not a conviction for killing or injuring one’s loved one.
Caro Smit, South Africans Against Drunk Driving

According to World Health Organisation data from 2016, SA ranks fifth in terms of per capita alcohol consumption.

A study by Wits University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) revealed there was a 60% to 70% dip in trauma admissions when liquor was banned at the start of the hard lockdown.

Smithers said that in 2010 the state adopted the WHO global policy on reducing alcohol harm, which formed a framework for the now mothballed bill.

The policy has three objectives: banning or severely limiting alcohol advertising, reducing the availability of alcohol, and increasing pricing through excise.

“If government had followed through there may well have been no need to impose a ban under Covid-19. We may, by now, have had a sufficiently changed drinking culture.”

When the bill went before the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in 2017, the Genesis Analytics consultancy produced a report that evaluated the economic, health and social effects of the recommended restrictions.

They estimated that by changing the drinking age and introducing advertising restrictions, alcohol consumption could be reduced by as much as 7.4%.

A study conducted by the South African Medical Research Council in June, Road Traffic Management Corporation data and other research nationally, driver alcohol intoxication is believed to account for 27.1% of fatal crashes in the country, with an associated estimated cost of R18.2bn. 

Caro Smit, of South Africans Against Drunk Driving, said temporary bans drew back the veil on what was possible.

“We need to look at the trauma, both emotionally and economically, that death or severe injury causes a family, and also the re-traumatisation that occurs when there is not a conviction for killing or injuring one’s loved one,” she said.

According to statistics from the department of social development’s gender-based violence call centre, pleas for help spiked by 30% within three days after the ban was lifted.

Adv Johan Jonck, of Arrive Alive, said: “As a society, we struggle to drink responsibly. This can be seen not only in road crashes but also in domestic and gender violence and other crimes.”