The temporary alcohol sales bans in South Africa have showed the potential for alcohol policy improvements in the country. The sales bans reduced alcohol availability which in turn led to major drops in alcohol-related trauma admissions to hospitals. Similarly, lifting of the respective alcohol sales bans caused instant increases in alcohol harm, such as hospital admissions. Other than falling hospital admissions and emergency room strain, also the South African police reported reductions in crime and violence as a result of the alcohol sales bans. These reports illustrate the importance of alcohol availability for levels of health and social problems in South African communities.
Since lifting of the alcohol sales bans the government of South Africa is considering ambitious improvements to its alcohol policy system, as result of the experience to lower and increase alcohol availability and its consequences.
Western Cape: Massive alcohol harm, history of attempts to use alcohol policy
The provincial government of Western Cape has often been ahead of the national government with regard to improving alcohol laws. As Movendi International reported previously, the Western Cape government has been planning a series of amendments to the province’s Liquor Act. The changes were set to be ‘fast-tracked as an urgent priority’.
Now, the Western Cape premier Alan Winde has announced on February 17, 2021, that a series of these first amendments will be presented to a Regulatory Impact Assessment committee next week, and a formal submission to cabinet will happen by the end of next month. The intention of the Western Cape government is to publish the amendment bill for public comment within a few months.
The province is considering the following amendments:
- Price: Implementing minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol;
- Availability: Limiting the number of hours for alcohol sale;
- Monitoring system: Ensuring that a record of all liquor sales is kept by outlets;
- Availability and youth protection: Obliging alcohol license holders to take reasonable measures to determine that a client is of legal age to buy alcohol;
- Enforcement: Inserting an objective test within the Act to determine whether alcohol has been sold to an unlicensed outlet/individual;
- Aligning the Act with the Liquor Products Act to ensure a uniform definition of “Illicit liquor”; and
- Providing for a public participation process to improve existing licensing.
These measures cover key elements of the WHO alcohol policy blueprint “SAFER”.
Concern over Big Alcohol interference
While announcing the new effort for alcohol policy development Western Cape premier Winde also mentioned he was “committed to working with the industry and consumers” to find solutions to the alcohol problems in communities.
This statement is concerning as it illustrates a permissive attitude to alcohol industry interference in public health policy making, despite the alcohol industry’s fundamental conflict of interest.
Efforts for alcohol policy development need to be protected from the alcohol industry as they produce, market and sell the product which causes the problems in the first place.
Alcohol industry interference in public policy making is a common strategy employed by Big Alcohol in the African region. For example, in South Africa the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill from 2017 is still not adopted after the alcohol industry lobbied against it and managed to derail it.
For these reasons, it is important to safeguard all amendments to the Liquor Act in Western Cape from alcohol industry lobbying. The provincial government should prioritize the health and well-being of their community over Big Alcohol profits.