In an e-mail to spiritsEurope, Food Drink Europe, the CEEV and Pernod Ricard, the head of trade and economics of the EU delegation to South Africa request an expression of interest regarding “definition of a number of activities that we would like to carry out together with the industry concerned in South Africa…” The subject line of this e-mail illustrates the intention of the joint EU-Big Alcohol activities: “Alcohol ban in South Africa and need to define public diplomacy activities to avoid/mitigate other bans”.
South Africa ended its third alcohol sales ban on February 2, 2021. It appears the government bowed to pressure from the alcohol industry, as the temporary sales ban was originally set to last at least until mid-February.
Both, Big Beer and Big Wine took legal action against the alcohol sales ban in efforts to protect their profits and despite clear evidence that the temporary measures had significant success in reducing alcohol harm and alleviating much pressure on healthcare and emergency services – a key consideration in the response to the coronavirus crisis in South Africa.
Public health benefit of alcohol policy solutions
The most recent alcohol sales ban came into force on December 28, 2020 and immediately led to a drop in trauma cases, for example in hospitals such as in the Western Cape region.
The two previously enforced temporary alcohol sales bans also successfully reduced alcohol harm.
- The first sales ban was instituted from March 27 to June 1, 2020.
- The second was instituted from July 13 to August 17, 2020.
Both alcohol sales bans led to significant reductions in alcohol-related hospitalizations, crime and accidents which substantially reduced the pressure on the healthcare system and emergency services during the pandemic.
The third and most recent alcohol sales ban immediately reduced trauma cases linked to alcohol, which fell by 47% on weekends and by 58% on weekdays in Western Cape, for example.
A recently released groundbreaking scientific report showed the interactions between alcohol and the coronavirus crisis: Alcohol fuels the coronavirus pandemic in different ways, the alcohol industry exploits the current public health crisis and many governments around the world have largely failed to protect their people by using evidence-based alcohol policy solutions as part of the response to COVID-19 – according to the comprehensive research report that examines the individual, societal and policy dimensions of the interaction between alcohol and the coronavirus crisis.
Big Alcohol’s conflict of interest
- Alcohol use has played a crucial role in the transmission and propagation of the coronavirus pandemic with major social and economic implications.
- The report also details evidence that maintaining and improving alcohol policy measures works in reducing harm, containing COVID-19 and protecting health system capacity during the pandemic.
- The researchers recommend limiting alcohol availability and affordability and to make use of evidence-based alcohol pricing policies.
- But the alcohol industry – including in South Africa – has a track record of opposing, delaying and derailing such evidence-based, high-impact alcohol policy solutions.
Analyzing cases from around the world, the research team finds that alcohol industry lobbying efforts have sought to undo every element of effective alcohol policy known to reduce alcohol’s health and social burden, e.g. by seeking to reduce taxes, make alcohol widely available and remove restrictions on marketing.
Big Alcohol exploits crisis to further decade-old deregulation agenda
The coronavirus crisis has brought into sharp focus the harm caused by alcohol industry products and practices.
We are deeply concerned by the aggressive alcohol industry activities we are seeing in our communities,” said Ms Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International, in a media release.
The onslaught of alcohol advertising promoting alcohol as coping tool during the pandemic fuels alcohol harm; aggressive lobbying to weaken and undermine existing alcohol policy measures hurts everyone except of Big Alcohol’s profits; and the relentless push to make alcohol more widely and easily available without protections for minors and people who have problems is deeply unethical.”Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International
Long track record of Big Alcohol interference
In January 2021, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a review of alcohol laws.
The alcohol sales bans during the pandemic led to substantial decreases in hospital trauma admissions, crime and violence in the country. The sales bans demonstrated the potential to promote health and development through alcohol policy in South Africa.
The substantial reductions in alcohol-linked trauma admissions at hospitals, crime and violent deaths after the alcohol sales ban demonstrate two facts:
- The drastic extent to which alcohol fuels crime, violence and accidents in South Africa, and
- The potential of prioritizing alcohol policy action to increase population level health, resolve societal problems and uplift the South African economy.
This is not the first time the South African government has considered improving alcohol policy solutions to prevent and reduce alcohol harms and develop the nation. The Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 proposed evidence-based policy measures to tackle South Africa’s alcohol problem, including:
- Increasing the legal age for alcohol purchase 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.
However, the alcohol industry interfered and derailed the bill – for four years – despite wide support by high-level ministers and various organizations.
Most recently, the Commission for Gender Equality of South Africa recommended to the government to improve alcohol policies towards reduced gender-based violence which is often fueled by alcohol. The commission specifically recommended to implement a minimum unit price (MUP), and increase alcohol taxes to better prevent alcohol’s harm to others.
South Africa has three draft Bills waiting for adoption that would vastly improve the regulation of the alcohol industry:
- Draft Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill of 2013,
- Draft Traffic Amendment Bill of 2015,
- Draft Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016.
But Big Alcohol opposes and block all of measures to protect South Africans from alcohol harm.
Troubling role of the European Union vis-à-vis the people of South Africa
As South Africa has relaunched its national conversation about WHO-recommended alcohol policy solutions, the European Union is mobilizing the alcohol industry against such evidence-based measures.
The EU delegation to South Africa invites the alcohol industry to design a strategy and offers that activities could be “partially financed under the Partnership Instrument-funded project ‘EU-SA Partners for Growth’” – if the alcohol industry has a “clear leading role”.
We are deeply concerned by this type of foreign interference into the matters of the South African people,” says Tungamirai Zimonte, Board Member of Movendi International and founder of YADD, Zimbabwe.
Big Alcohol corporations – many of which come from Europe – have caused devastating harm to our communities for many years and have delayed, derailed and destroyed efforts to protect people from alcohol harm.
It is bizarre and appalling that the European Union would invite and even fund Big Alcohol to continue to do just that.Tungamirai Zimonte, Founder, Youth against Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (YADD), Zimbabwe
The European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare), that first exposed this story, criticizes the worrying trend of lack of EU policy coherence. The EU’s request to the alcohol industry to intervene illustrated that the EU Institutions are working in silos.
During the Covid pandemic the EU has emerged as the beacon of public health and coordinated multinational response. It therefore comes as such a disappointment that the European External Action Service (EEAS) policy directions are not coordinated with DG SANTE who should be the first point of contact for any EU official on health-related matters.Eurocare
Eurocare calls on the EU delegation to cancel this South African initiative and follow international best practice and prevent conflicts of interest in public health policy making by keeping the alcohol industry at bay concerning alcohol policy development.
The alcohol industry has a fundamental conflict of interest and an appalling track record of putting profits over people,” says Kristina Sperkova, International President of Movendi International.
Our members in Europe, Africa and around the world are horrified by the conduct of the European Union.
Europe has just committed itself to reducing population-level alcohol use by 10% until 2025 in order to promote a healthier union. Why would the European Union encourage the alcohol industry – and even pay them – to undermine and counter-act similar goals in South Africa?
The people of South Africa have a right to evidence-based alcohol policy development. They have a right to be protected from Big Alcohol interference and greed.”Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International