South African communities are calling on the government to pass the Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 which includes raising the legal age for alcohol purchase to 21 years.

While the Bill has been reconsidered many times over the past five years, alcohol industry policy interference has blocked its adoption.

Communities led by the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) are calling on the South African government to pass the Liquor Amendment Bill. Increasing the legal age limit for alcohol purchase is one policy solution included in the Bill.

We should acknowledge the link between alcohol [use] by adults in the home and in the community and the physical and psychological abuse of children in our society and take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening,” said Maurice Smithers, Director, SAAPA South Africa, as per Business Tech.

Maurice Smithers, Director, SAAPA South Africa.

The Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 proposes evidence-based policy measures to tackle South Africa’s alcohol problem, including: 

  1. Increasing the legal age for alcohol purchase to 21 years;
  2. The introduction of a 100-metre radius limitation of alcohol trade around educational and religious institutions;
  3. Banning of any alcohol sales and advertising on social and small media; and
  4. The introduction of a new liability clause for alcohol sellers.

South Africa was one of the countries that used alcohol availability measures to effectively reduce the spread of COVID-19 and uplift the burden on hospitals. South Africa used four temporary alcohol sales bans during the pandemic. The most recent one in July, 2021.

The previous temporary alcohol sales bans were widely successful in easing the pressure on South Africa’s healthcare system. The success of the temporary alcohol sales bans were documented in research analyzing the trauma case volume from Worcester Regional Hospital in South Africa. The results showed that there was significant decrease in trauma cases during the bans which picked up again with partial ban and no ban. Additionally, authorities observed that the bans led to reduced crime, violence and road traffic accidents in the country.

Alcohol policies in South Africa and Big Alcohol interference

Since the success of the temporary alcohol sales bans, discussion about alcohol policy development picked up in South Africa. The Liquor Amendment Bill has received wide-ranging support by high-level ministers and various organizations. Unfortunately, despite this support, the increased attention shown this year and considerations over the last five years, the government has not taken further steps to formally introduce the Bill.

The Bill not being adopted over the past five years is an example of the policy interference by the alcohol industry in the African region. This is further illustrated by alcohol company SAB Miller – AB InBev subsidiary of South Africa – who held back investment in South Africa only to reinvest later with a warning to the government. The company cancelled R5 billion in investments in the country over the last year citing the temporary bans. However, SAB walked back on their word and reinvested R2 billion. The investments were to upgrade their own facilities.

With the investment Richard Rivett-Carnac, AB InBev’s vice president of finance, legal and corporate affairs for the rest of Africa, said to the government “we can expect to see more consultation in the future” regarding alcohol policies.

Public health policy making is the job of the government and it is imperative to protect these policies from vested interests such as the industry. Hinting at industry consultation on public health policies along with an investment is akin to a threat.

This move by SAB shows the aggressive pressure of the alcohol industry on governments and policy makers. Which is why policies such as the Liquor Amendment Bill in South Africa is ever more important.

The lack or weak alcohol policies are exploited by the alcohol industry in the African region to drive higher sales and block policies or create industry favorable policies. This is leading to increased alcohol harm in the region. Ultimately for the alcohol industry the largely alcohol-free African region with its growing middle class and young population is only market to be captured. As the alcohol industry has shown time and again, when given the choice between profits and people’s health the industry will prioritize profits.

Adopting the Liquor Amendment Bill on 2016 would strengthen the government against the pressures of the industry. Thus, protecting the African people from the harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.


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