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New laws could see drinking age increased to 21

By Staff Writer

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has released a National Liquor Policy for public comment (scroll down for details). The policy makes a number of recommendations that will see some significant changes to the current legislation around liquor and alcohol.
 
Among these changes is a recommendation that the national minimum legal drinking age be increased from 18 to 21 years, as well as restrictions on advertising, registration and licensing requirements, and regulating the trade hours during which alcohol can be sold.
 
Geordin Hill-Lewis, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for trade and industry told Justmoney: “We are still studying these proposals, and are not able to give you a response to these questions until we’ve consulted with our colleagues in the various governments that the DA runs, as it is local and provincial governments who are primarily responsible for liquor regulation and enforcement.
 
“What I will say at this point is that it is bad practice on the part of any government to pass laws which have no real prospect of being enforced. This only serves to undermine the rule of law, as people begin to lose respect for laws that are not enforced, and then eventually for more fundamental laws as well. e-Tolls is a case in point.
 
“So as a starting point, we would need to see a regulatory impact assessment which demonstrates the ability of the SAPS and other government structures to actually enforce such far reaching proposals.
 
Beyond that, we are studying the proposals carefully and will comment in due course,” revealed Hill-Lewis.
 
Restricting sponsorship and advertising
 
According to the DTI, there should be an amendment to Section 9 of the National Liquor Policy, which deals with advertising restrictions. These restrictions would be in line with changes proposed in the Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill.
 
“The bill is calling for the restriction of advertisement of the alcoholic beverages, prohibitions of sponsorship and promotion associated with alcoholic beverages.”
 
It adds: “The bill is currently still under consideration. This recommendation will provide flexibility of setting parameters and restrictions in a manner guided by the extent of the problem faced.”
 
Dr Osborn Mahanjana, CEO of the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) told Justmoney that restriction of sponsorship by alcoholic beverage companies could “affect not only the country’s national teams but also media houses, employment in various industries, and the general economy of the country.”
 
Increasing the minimum legal drinking age
 
According to reports, underage drinking is a problem in South Africa. In order to combat this problem, the DTI has proposed increasing the minimal legal drinking age.
 
Mahanjana emphasised that it will be difficult to determine whether or not increasing the minimum legal drinking age to 21 will lead to a reduction in alcohol abuse by adolescents. “Unfortunately it is difficult to anticipate whether this proposal will be beneficial for people under the age of 21 without having seen any evidence [or] research that says if you increase the age from 18 to 21, it will lead to the reduction of alcohol abuse by youth.”
 
The recommendations laid out in the National Liquor Policy state: “The licensees, manager or any other person dispensing liquor at the premises must take steps to ensure verification of the age of any person who appears to be under the age of 21 by requesting an identity document, passport or driver's license in order to verify the person's age before any liquor may be sold or supplied to them. It should be an offense therefore for such persons to sell liquor to persons under the age of 21 and for persons under the age of 21 to provide false evidence of their age in order to access liquor or enter a liquor premise.”
 
Standardising registration and licensing requirements
 
Further recommendations presented in the National Liquor Policy suggest new requirements for the licensing of suppliers of alcohol.
 
The Policy states: “Liquor premises must be located at least 500 metres away from schools, places of worship, recreation facilities, rehabilitation or treatment centres, residential areas and public institutions.”
 
It goes on to say: “No liquor licenses shall be issued to petrol service stations, premises attached to petrol service stations, and premises near public transport. If such a license is already issued it should be terminated within a period of two years.”
 
In addition to examining the licensing requirements, the recommendations laid out in the National Liquor Policy also look at regulating the availability of liquor. “One of the strategies to reduce the availability of liquor includes the need to regulate days and hours when alcohol sales should be permitted.”
 
Mahanjana stated: “The problem is not accessibility but rather the relationship between individuals and alcohol. The ARA believes in combating the misuse and abuse of alcohol through targeted interventions that will change the behaviour of individuals, programmes that raise awareness and education aimed at vulnerable [and] at risk groups with the aim of [addressing] issues such as underage drinking, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and drinking and driving.”
 
Further recommendations
 
Over and above the changes to the national minimum drinking age, regulations, and registration and licensing agreements, the Policy also recommends that manufacturers and suppliers of alcohol should be held liable if alcohol is found at illegal or unlicensed outlets.
 
“Manufacturers and suppliers have a responsibility to ensure that liquor products are not supplied to unlicensed traders. Liability should therefore be placed on the manufacturer or supplier if its products are found in illegal or unlicensed outlets,” states the National Liquor Policy.
 
It also recommends that alcohol should not be sold to people who are already intoxicated. “Should that happen and the intoxicated person is involved in motor accidents or crime related to substance abuse, the manufacturer, distributor and trader should bear liability for any harm or damages.”
 
Brandhouse Beverages (Pty) Ltd was unable to comment, stating that all queries should be directed to the industry body ARA.
 
To read the full National Liquor Policy and for information on how to send in comment, click here.

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