South Africa: Alcohol Industry Exposed for Shifting Blame to Consumers
Public health experts in South Africa have exposed the alcohol industry for shifting the blame of alcohol harm to consumers.
Initiated by Sonke Gender Justice, the first joint discussion was held for a civil society campaign to achieve a “new normal” in South African society where the availability of alcohol is permanently reduced to prevent alcohol-related harms, including interpersonal and gender-based violence (GBV) and murders.
From a harm perspective there is nothing ‘responsible’ about [alcohol use] at all. It’s just an extent of harm that it causes. I think it’s an idea that is being pushed by the industry and we should be careful about the language that we use,” said Professor Richard Matzopoulos, co-director of the South African Medical Research Council’s burden of diseases unit, speaking at the discussion, as per Times Live.
Dr Laurine Platzky, who is a board member of the Western Cape Liquor Authority pointed out that instead of asking consumers to be “responsible” the industry must question whether they produce and distribute alcohol responsibly and whether they are adhering to laws. Dr Platzky emphasized the evidence that it was licensed stores which would sell alcohol to unlicensed sellers.
Dr. Platzky added that statistics show most alcohol-related injuries happen on weekends and pay days when consumers are more likely to binge on alcohol.
The discussion also looked at the idea that alcohol greatly contributes to the economy which is a myth propagated by the industry. In truth, the costs of alcohol are far higher than any revenue generated by the industry.
Alcohol costs the country more than it is making a profit. And we have to get that narrative changed because at the moment the industry has this narrative that they create so many jobs,” said Dr. Platzky.
In the discussion, the representatives of the organizations suggested increasing excise tax on alcohol, increasing legal age of alcohol use and better regulation of alcohol in order to make environments safe and inclusive to all.
Drawing on the campaign for stricter gun laws, Adele Kirsten from Gun Free South Africa said the campaign for a better alcohol policy system should also have one clear message so that different organizations can join in their capacity but it would remain one message.
Alcohol industry lobbying against public health policy
As Movendi International previously reported, South Africa successfully banned alcohol sales during COVID-19 leading to a reduction in violence, violent crime and deaths in the country. However, Big Alcohol lobbied aggressively against this ban and it has been lifted since June 1, 2020. Immediately after lifting the ban hospital’s started seeing ‘nightmare’ levels of alcohol injuries.
South Africa opened their restaurants to customers as of June 29, 2020. However, alcohol sale for dine-in orders remain banned. Alcohol is only allowed for take away orders from restaurants.
It seems, however, lifting of the alcohol sales ban is not enough for the alcohol industry. Despite the World Health Organization (WHO)’s advise to limit alcohol availability during COVID-19, the alcohol industry has started lobbying against the dine-in ban of alcohol. The Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa) has taken legal action against the government regarding the dine-in alcohol sales ban.
The political party FF Plus has also joined in with Big Alcohol lobbying. The party has promised the alcohol industry to keep pressurizing the Minister for Trade, Ebrahim Patel to lift the dine-in alcohol sales ban. It is questionable that a political party is looking out more for the profit interests of multinational alcohol producers instead of the interests of the public that they claim to represent.
In this context the campaign to improve and modernize South Africa’s alcohol policy system is ever more important. The success of the alcohol sales ban in the country shows that there is great potential to reduce the heavy alcohol burden in the country with effective policy action.
The South African: “Level 3: Trade minister ‘pressured to lift alcohol ban’ in restaurants“