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New alcohol proposals for South Africa include higher taxes and ‘minimum pricing’

| Legislation

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has recommended that government look at further regulations around the sale of alcohol in South Africa in response to its high levels of gender-based violence.

The commission, which is set to present a webinar on its findings on Thursday (12 November), said that the country needs to have a ‘sober discussion’ around alcohol and substance abuse as contributing factors in gender-based violence.

Some of its key recommendations include:

  • Minimum unit pricing  – Introducing minimum unit pricing on the sale of alcohol, including by increasing excise tax on the price of alcohol. For instance, studies have indicated how a 10% increase in price causes a 4.4% fall in consumption, the commission said.
  • Additional tax  – A similar meta-analysis of the impact of altering alcohol tax showed that a doubling of tax led to a 35% reduction in alcohol-related mortality.
  • Stricter punishments – The commission said that government in general and law enforcement agencies, in particular, should adopt a stern approach to dealing with alcohol abuse, through strict enforcement of current legislation dealing with alcohol including withdrawal of licenses from liquor traders that do not comply with regulations. It should also conduct public awareness and educational campaigns on the consequences and dangers of alcohol abuse, including fatalities resulting from gender-based violence, drunk driving, etc.

“The commission is convinced that the deliberations from the Webinar will assist the country in developing appropriate policy and programme interventions to address alcohol and substance abuse as contributing factors in gender-based violence,” it said.

Western Cape restrictions 

The recommendations align closely with proposals made by the Western Cape government which is also considering further regulations around the sale of alcohol.

Premier Alan Winde told the Western Cape Legislature in October that the Western Cape has “a deadly relationship with alcohol that must be urgently addressed”.

“Our department of health’s data showed that when alcohol was banned during the Hard Lockdown and subsequent restrictions, trauma cases in our hospitals came down notably,” he said.

“As soon as the sale of alcohol was allowed again, the number of trauma cases increased almost by the same percentage. The causality is as clear as day.”

He said that the Western Cape Government will propose major amendments to the Western Cape Liquor Act, with these changes to be ‘fast-tracked as an urgent priority’.

“As part of these amendments, I can announce that we have now put ‘per-unit-of-alcohol’ pricing firmly on the table for consideration,” he said.

“This will make it more expensive to buy alcoholic beverages with higher alcohol percentages; an approach which evidence suggests can be effective in preventing binge drinking.”

Winde said that the province will also consider stricter times for the sale of alcohol, even after the expiry of the National State of the Disaster regulations.

“This tougher approach must be matched with incentives for liquor outlets who do follow the rules, he said.

“It also requires that we make it less burdensome for unlicensed vendors to become compliant, so that we can eradicate the illegal sale of alcohol in our communities. We must have the courage to get the job done on alcohol.”

Winde’s comment comes after the Western Cape’s minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz, said that his provincial department plans to make amendments to the Western Cape Liquor Act.

Fritz said his department has been tasked with amending the act as a part of its a plan to halve the murder rate in the province over the next 10 years. The amendments are further aligned with premier Winde’s Smart Interventions aimed at reducing alcohol related harms (ARH), he said.

Fritz said that the province is looking to introduce the following changes:

  • Ensuring that a record of all liquor sales is kept by outlets and prescribe the measure of detail required;
  • Permanently confiscating seized liquor following the payment of an admission of guilt fine;
  • Obliging licence holders to take reasonable measures to determine that a client is of legal drinking age;
  • 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”;
  • Providing for a public participation process to alter existing licences.
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