Government weighing more taxes and higher drinking age limit to curb alcohol abuse

Increased taxes, curbed trading hours, stricter advertising regulations, and a higher drinking age limit are among the legislative measures government is considering to clamp down on alcohol abuse in South Africa.

This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who recently elaborated on the ANC’s position regarding alcohol abuse in South Africa during an interview with The Sunday Times.

The ruling party’s annual January 8 statement this year included comments about the impact of the ongoing alcohol ban amid the second wave of COVID-19 in the country, pointing to possible permanent interventions in this regard.

“The temporary restrictions that were placed on the availability of alcohol under the state of disaster regulations have demonstrated the extent to which abuse of alcohol fuels violence, trauma and reckless behaviour and places a burden on our health system and emergency services,” the statement reads.

“We must take measures to reduce the abuse of alcohol through a combination of legislative and other measures and community mobilisation,” it added.

Ramaphosa told The Sunday Times that steps were necessary in order to ease the pressure alcohol abuse had on the healthcare system.

“What is clear in my mind is that it raised its ugly head now during [the] COVID [pandemic] and we saw what abuse of alcohol does in the number of trauma cases that are often reported; when we imposed the ban, many trauma cases stopped,” he said.

He noted while government would start with intensified campaigns against the abuse of alcohol, there were several legislative interventions it could implement.

These could include raising the alcohol drinking age limit, or changing trading hours for liquor purchases.

In addition, Ramaphosa said increased taxation was a possibility, as this had resulted in a drop in consumption in other countries.

Furthermore, liquor advertising could come under the spotlight.

“Should alcohol be as widely and broadly advertised as it is, to a point that even young children see alcohol being advertised throughout the course of the day; what should we do about that, should they advertise or not?” Ramaphosa asked.

SAB cancels R2.5-billion investment

The constitutionality of government’s decision to ban alcohol for a third time under COVID-19 lockdown regulations has been challenged by South African Breweries (SAB), however.

The company has said it will approach the court as it believes the ban goes far beyond what is reasonable and necessary to contain the spread of the virus and unlawfully restricts various rights that are enshrined and protected by the constitution.

“These include the right to freedom of trade, the right to human dignity, privacy, and the right to bodily and psychological integrity,” SAB said.

It argued that the alcohol ban removes the South African public’s right to responsibly consume alcohol in the privacy of their own homes, noting that the prohibition would have severe negative effects on local industry.

“The damage to the South African economy and impact on the alcohol value chain arising from the ban on the sale of alcohol is, in SAB’s view, disproportional and unlawful.”

Earlier this week, SAB announced it had cancelled a R2.5 billion capital investment in South Africa following the latest ban.

This brings the brewer’s cancelled capital expenditure in the country to R5 billion since the first alcohol ban was introduced in March 2020.

The cancelled investments relate to upgrades to operating facilities, product innovation, operating systems, as well as the installation of new equipment at selected plants.

This decision will impact on the profitability of and number of jobs created by the companies that would have worked with SAB to execute the capital investment plans, it said.

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Government weighing more taxes and higher drinking age limit to curb alcohol abuse