Pressure from Big Alcohol has led to the early lifting of the third temporary alcohol sales ban in South Africa, marking a loss for public health amidst the COVID-19 health crisis. A fierce debate about the dangers of the decision to cave to Big Alcohol has ensued among political parties in the country.

South Africa entered its third alcohol sales ban on December 28th 2020 which immediately led to a drop in trauma cases, for example in hospitals such as in the Western Cape region. The government initially planned to continue the sales ban till mid-February 2021 and to lift it after a review. However the alcohol sales ban was lifted already on February 2, 2021. It appears the government bowed to pressure from the alcohol industry.

Accordingly alcohol sales for off-premise alcohol use will be allowed for the normal licensed hours and on-premise sale would be allowed between 10:00 AM and 10:00 PM throughout the week.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party has opposed lifting the alcohol sales ban by the president calling it “reckless” amidst the ongoing pandemic.

As Movendi International reported earlier, AB InBev subsidiary SAB Miller challenged the government on the third alcohol sales ban in South African courts. In January, the Beer Giant threatened to pull investments worth R2.5 billion from South Africa if the sales ban continued.

Interference in public health policies to safeguard profit interest is a common strategy employed by Big Alcohol in the African region. Big Alcohol corporations are steadily making in-roads in Africa, leaving a trail of health, social and economic harms in the region. The multinational alcohol corporations market alcohol heavily, specifically to the growing young middle-class of Africans. In a relentless pursuit of profit maximization the alcohol industry exploits the situation that the alcohol trade is largely unregulated, for example concerning alcohol advertising or taxation. Strong alcohol lobby groups in the region aggressively push against any public health policy that would affect Big Alcohol’s profits. For example in South Africa the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill which contains solutions to the alcohol problem in the country such as raising the legal age for purchasing alcohol to 21 year, is still not implemented. The alcohol industry continues to push for ever higher alcohol availability and affordability, thus increasing consumption and their profits at the cost of people’s health and communities’ wellbeing.

The alcohol industry has aggressively opposed South Africa’s temporary sales bans from the beginning, citing their losses, despite the gains to health and well-being of South Africans during the ongoing crisis. The sales bans helped hospitals to maintain their capacity to respond to the pandemic by reducing trauma cases caused by alcohol. It also helped with reducing the spread of the virus through alcohol-centric super spreader events, thus protecting many vulnerable and at-risk South Africans in the community. The three alcohol sales bans have demonstrated the potential of alcohol policy solutions to succeed and safeguard South Africans’ health.

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Source Website: The South African