SA Liquor Industry Says It Will Self Regulate To Avoid Raising Drinking Age To 21

Written by Dana Sanchez

South Africa’s liquor industry says it will regulate itself in a attempt to prevent the government from raising the minimum drinking age from 18 to 21, an industry official said Friday, Reuters reports.

The industry, which includes multinational companies such as SABMiller, Pernod Ricard, and hundreds of local wine producers, has offered to regulate marketing jointly with the government in an attempt to head off the ban.

The South African liquor industry is worth about 333 billion rand ($26 billion) a year, Reuters reports.

In 2009, South Africa’s liquor industry was worth 116 billion rand ($9.06 billion US) and provided jobs for about 87,000 people, according to a May report in News24.

Critics of new laws regulating underage drinking and drink driving say South Africa already has laws but they are poorly enforced and often ignored.

In May, the South African government put up for public discussion proposed changes to the country’s alcohol regulations that would raise the minimum drinking age and make alcohol producers and retailers liable for drink-related damage to consumers.

There is still a long road ahead before the proposals can take effect, said Dan Mettyear, who covers South Africa for the IWSR — a leading provider of data on global consumption of wines and spirits — in an interview in May with Just-Drinks.

Lobbyists for large multinational companies will fight back against alcohol-law changes in South Africa as they have done before, Mettyear said.

The overall mood in the South African government seems firmly set against alcohol and the past few years have seen tax-burden benchmarks set – 23 percent of retail shelf price for wine, 35 percent for beer, and 48 percent for spirits, Just-Drinks reports.

But South Africa has a huge drinking problem.

South Africans consumed 27.1 liters of pure alcohol per capita in 2010 compared to the global average of 6.2 liters of alcohol a year for those aged 15 and older, according to the World Health Organisation’s 2014 global liquor outlook, Reuters reports.

“If the proposals are enacted, it will signal constraints, if not the end of our booze and braai culture, and the casual acceptance of drinking and driving,” a reporter wrote in News24.

If they become law, the proposed new rules could restrict alcohol advertising and prohibit the promotion of liquor through sponsorships of sports teams and entertainment events.

Thousands of unlicensed shebeens and taverns could be affected and alcohol    suppliers punished for enabling drunkenness, according to News24.

“We need to find a balance. We can’t destroy an industry that brings money into the fiscus (national budget), but we also can’t turn a blind eye to problems associated with abuse,” Kurt Moore, chairman of the liquor industry task team, told Reuters.

Alcohol producers are trying to find a way to restrict TV, radio and outdoor advertising but can’t agree on how to do it, Moore said.

“The industry is of the view that self-regulation and government oversight do not represent two opposite and mutually exclusive alternatives,” Moore said in a prepared statement.

People who serve alcohol will not be able to serve customers who are already intoxicated according to the proposal. Bar workers, manufacturers, distributors and traders could be liable if a drinker is involved in car crash, News24 reported.

Liquor licences would not be issued for outlets located less than 500 meters from schools, churches, recreation facilities, residential areas and public institutions, or at buildings attached to petrol stations and public transport facilities.