Proposed amendments to the National Liquor Act which is now open for public comment include raising the age of drinking to 21 in South Africa and introduces civil liability for proprietors, suppliers and manufacturers who serve to people who cause accidents or commit crimes while intoxicated, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said on Monday.
Briefing journalists in Parliament on the National Liquor Amendment Bill and the liquor policy paper, Davies said the the public would have 45 days from Monday to provide input on several proposals in the two documents.
“We are looking for a reaction from the society and the first proposal we are putting forward is that the legal drinking age be raised from 18 to 21,” the minister said, adding that the bill cited evidence that this measure could be effective in curbing alcohol abuse.
“The first is that it is a physiological argument which is saying there is evidence that the brain does not fully develop until the mid twenties in fact, and that when the brain is not yet fully developed the impact on the brain of alcohol abuse is much more severe than it is on the fully developed brain…”
Evidence from other countries where the drinking age was increased also showed that the the consequences of alcohol abuse, such as road crashes had gone down, said Davies.
The minister said while criminal liability existed to tackle the illegal trade in alcohol, it had been traditionally hard to enforce, compelling government to consider introducing civil liability.
“Manufacturers and suppliers who supply to illegal or unlicenced outlets, if from the consumption in those unlicenced outlets there is damage caused, the manufacturers and suppliers, the wholesalers if you like, the onus will shift [to them] and they will have to show…they took reasonable steps to ensure that their product was not supplied to the unlicenced outlets that were responsible for them,” said Davies.
This means that if any damage is caused by a person who became intoxicated at an illegal outlet, victims, communities or even the State can now sue the suppliers of these drinking holes.
Serving alcohol to a person who is already visibly intoxicated can also land you in hot water, said Davies.
“If that happens and that person goes out and commits some sort of an offence outside that is involving costs, then the same thing will happen. The supplier to that person will be obliged to show why they should not bear the civil liability in this particular case.”
The bill also sets some limits on alcohol advertising, including a blanket ban on advertising targeting young people, and no billboards at any transport facilities and garages.
“Any adverts will have to indicate the harmful effects of alcohol,” said Davies.
New norms and standards will also be introduced so provinces, who are responsible for registering liquor outlets and shebeens, can adhere to it. Some of the norms and standards include that no new licences will be given to outlets located closer than 500 metres from schools, recreational centres or places of worship.
Davies said while the alcohol industry was a significant contributor to GDP, export earnings and to employment, it had to be regulated strictly as it had caused significant societal problems.
These included the fact that South Africa has one of the highest incidences of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). There are approximately one million people in the country with FAS, while another five million people have some damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption, said Davies.
Over 40 percent of all injuries, and 46 percent of all non-natural deaths concern people who “had alcohol levels above the legal limit for driving”.
Studies showed that 60 percent of South Africans consumed alcohol, compared to the world average of 52 percent. The average drinker in South Africa consumes between 10 and 12.4 litres of alcohol compared to the global average of 6.2 litres.
“Business as usual is not going to crack it. Business as usual is not making it better, it’s actually making it worse,” said Davies.
“What we are presenting here is a set of ideas, a set of proposals which we would like to see a full-on national debate around this very important question.”