Have your say on the Liquor Amendment Bill

The Liquor Amendment Bill is out for public comment

Mitchell’s Plain residents have until next month to comment on the Liquor Amendment Bill, which, among others recommends increasing the national minimum legal age at which alcohol may be purchased and consumed, from 18 to 21.

The Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies released the Liquor Amendment Bill for public comment in Parliament on Monday October 3. The bill is an amendment to the 2003 act.

In a statement released to the media, Mr Davies said South Africa was among the highest consumers of alcohol in the world. “We are also the highest with regards to Foetal Alcohol Syndrome in the world, and 41% of the injuries are from incidences related to alcohol consumption,” he said.

Mr Davis also said that the state spends about R3.7 billion a year on problems related to alcohol abuse. He added that the proposals raised in the bill were also as a result of the benchmark done in other countries where it was proven that, for instance, raising the alcohol consumption age helped reduce negative incidences related to alcohol consumption.

Trade and Industry departmental spokesman Sidwell Moloantoa Medupe, said the Liquor Amendment Bill is aimed at addressing the socio-economic impact of liquor, the slow pace of transformation, standardisation of key aspects of regulation and improved regulatory collaboration. He added that it would eradicate the manufacturing and trading in illegal and illicit alcohol as well as challenges with regards to regulatory capacity within the National Liquor Authority (NLA).

Mr Medupe said the bill empowers the Minister of Trade and Industry to determine restrictions and parameters for advertising and marketing of liquor products; determine trading days and hours for manufacturers and distributors and prescribe the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) level of compliance to be met by registrants and guidelines for combatting socio-economic harms caused by liquor abuse.

Mr Medupe said all comments received will be given due consideration and incorporated into the final bill which will be considered by the minister. He said the bill will be tabled before Cabinet for consideration. “Cabinet will introduce the bill to Parliamentary process, for example public hearings. Once the bill has been adopted, it will be referred to the president for signature. Once the bill is signed, it will be an act,” he said.

Cathy Karassellos a clinical psychologist at the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre, which has an office in Eastridge, said the centre supports the recommendation to increase the legal age of consuming and buying alcohol to 21.

“Although this does not guarantee that those under 21 will not drink, it does, in essence, give a clear message and recommendation. The government has a responsibility to convey responsible messages about the use of harmful substances. For example it is thus fortunate that they have not succumbed to pressure to legalise the use and possession of dagga – legislation which would make it much harder for parents and schools to discourage dagga use among young people,” she said.

Ms Karassellos said the legislation would make it less likely that young people would slip into early negative drinking patterns just because all their peers were drinking. “We should, however, not overlook the fact that there are other influences in this regard, for example the drinking behaviour of their parents and role models in the community, and the lack of alternate entertainment facilities,” she said.

Speaking about the Liquor Act of 2003 she said: “The act states: ‘A person must not advertise liquor in a manner intended to attract or target minors’. This is vague, and one can expect that advertising intended for adults would also attract young people anyway. We would propose a ban on alcohol advertising, as is the case with tobacco.

“The act states further: ‘A person selling liquor must take reasonable steps to determine accurately whether or not a person is a minor before selling liquor to that person’. Again this is vague – the act should be clear that an identification document is required to establish age,” she said.

Mitchell’s Plain Network Opposing Abuse manager, Mareldea Sonday, said the network supports the proposed bill as it will contribute to reducing crimes such as date rape. Often, she said, perpetrators spike the drinks of their victims. “Alcohol abuse plays a major role in incidents of physical and sexual abuse as in some instances people are irresponsible and act irrationally (when they have been drinking).

“With regards to the increase of the legal age of consumption, we feel it will or should benefit the community at large as well as the overall well-being of family life,” she said.

Michael Kovensky, owner of Aroma Drop Inn franchise at Westgate Mall, however, said the proposed bill was “mindless and ineffective”, arguing that government should focus on educating people about moderate alcohol consumption instead.

“I think that there should be more education and awareness around alcohol consumption. Government focuses on creating awareness around safe sex and HIV/Aids but lacks in the alcohol abuse department. If you educate our youth, their mindsets will change.

“Then, what happens to the teenager who could drink at 18, and now cannot drink on his 19th birthday? He will not do it and drink anyway and how will he be monitored?”

Other liquor traders were reluctant to talk to the Plainsman when approached for comment.

Mitchell’s Plain police spokesperson Captain Ian Williams said the outlets in Mitchell’s Plain with on-consumption liquor licences already have restrictions of 21 as legal drinking age.

“For policing purposes, since 21 years old is regarded as an adult, this will make it easier for police to deal directly with the perpetrator.” He added that most licensed liquor outlets adhered to regulations and were visited weekly to ensure compliance.

Mr Medupe said the amendment bill also proposes the establishment of a National Liquor Regulator which would “assume the functions of the National Liquor Authority, including new functions of conducting research and dissemination of information, conducting education and awareness and reviews; and finally provide for the harmonisation of liquor laws”.

He added that: “The reviews and reforms of national and provincial policies, legislation, norms and standards shall be processed after consultation with the council.” Residents have 45 days from the date of publication, which was Friday September 30.

The amendment bill can be viewed at http://www.thedti.gov.za/gazzettes/40319.pdf