Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies says government wants to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 years in order to curb abuse amongst young people.
The Minister said to clamp down on illegal alcohol sales through unlicensed outlets, the National Liquor Amendment Bill introduces a new clause of civil liability to manufacturers who supply liquor to these unlicensed suppliers.
The Minister said this when he briefed the media on the publishing of the National Liquor Amendment Bill and the National Gambling Amendment Bill for public comment.
Minister Davies said members of the public will have 45 days to comment on the two bills, which are aimed at helping to strengthen the enforcement and regulation of the two industries in order to minimise the social ills associated with them.
The Minister said he hoped the publishing of the bills will attract a reaction from the broader society.
“…The first proposal that we are putting forward is that the legal drinking age be raised from 18 to 21.
“We are hoping that this debate will involve not just people who have material interest in the industry, but also our communities and people that are involved in dealing with the consequences of alcohol abuse,” he said.
The Minister said the bill also proposes the inclusion of civil liability against those involved in illegal alcohol trade to improve enforcement.
Manufacturers and suppliers, who supply to illegal or unlicensed outlets, will be required to show that they took reasonable steps to ensure that their products are not supplied to unlicensed outlets.
“In another scenario, if there is supply of alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated … and that person goes out and commits some sort of offence, then the supplier will be obliged to show why they should not be bearing civil liability,” the Minister said.
On advertising, the Minister said limitation will be placed on advertising of alcohol products that targets young people when it comes to times, content and parameters.
He said there would also be limitations on advertising alcohol products in areas where there are transport facilities.
Norms and standards will be introduced for provincial authorities to comply with, including rejecting new liquor registrations of outlets that are located within 500 meters from schools, places of worship and recreational facilities.
Alcohol abuse a national problem
The Minister said there is evidence that the brain of a young person is not fully developed until the mid-20s, and that when it is not fully developed, the impact of alcohol abuse on the brain is much more severe than it is on a developed brain.
He also cited research that showed that in instances where the legal drinking age was raised, incidents like car crashes and other societal ills that affect young people that are related to alcohol had gone down.
While the liquor industry contributes significantly to the country’s gross domestic product and on employment, the Minister said it was a regulated industry as it produces products that are potentially harmful to members of the public.
He cited a policy paper that states that alcohol abuse in South Africa is on the increase. The country consumes five billion litres of alcoholic beverages per year. Sixty percent of South Africans drink alcohol – higher than the world average of 52%.
The rate of foetal alcohol syndrome in South Africa is also up. It is estimated that one million people in the country are affected by foetal alcohol syndrome.
About 41% of all injury related cases are from people involved in alcohol consumption, and 46% of cases of mortality due to non-natural causes were related to alcohol.
Alcohol abuse costs government R37.9 billion annually and this includes the cost of hospitalisation and the cost of accidents, amongst others.
“Our conclusion is that while the industry creates jobs, at the same time, there is a significant problem in this country of alcohol abuse and the figures are telling us that this is not getting better.
“I think this is leading us to conclude that we have to take much more drastic measures to combat alcohol abuse and that this is a serious national problem,” said Minister Davies.
Government aims to tighten gambling enforcement
The dti has also published the National Gambling Amendment Bill for public comment.
Minister Davies said while the gambling industry contributes significantly to the country’s GDP and jobs, it also has its negative impact on gambling addicts.
Citing a media report, the Minister said South Africans lost R17.2 billion at casinos in 2014.
The amendment bill proposes that the National Gambling Board should become the national gambling regulator. The statutory body would be headed by a CEO to be located within the dti.
The bill also provides for additional restrictions on gambling advertising to ensure there is prohibition to unsolicited messages that are directed towards vulnerable groups like minors.
Unlawful winnings emanating from online gambling, which is illegal in South Africa, will be confiscated.
The Minister said an inspectorate will deal with the scourge and work with the Financial Intelligence Centre to target any unlawful winnings.