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Drinking age could increase to 21

By Jessica Anne Wood

Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies has released the Final National Liquor Policy for public comment. The draft policy was initially released last year. It proposes a number of significant changes to the current legislation around liquor and alcohol. Among the many changes proposed, is increasing the legal drinking age to 21 from 18 years.

According to the draft policy, increasing the minimum legal drinking age is aimed at delaying the introduction of liquor consumption to the youth. One of the reasons for this is that research has revealed that teenage drinking is on the rise, as well as that the younger a person starts to drink, the more likely they will experience problems with heavy drinking at a later stage.

“It is stated that adolescence is a period when teenage brain undergoes important developments. This period of brain development continues until most people reach the age of 25. Consequently, exposing adolescent brain to alcohol during this period may impair neurological development causing youth to make irresponsible decisions, encounter memory lapse, or process and send neural impulses more slowly. It is therefore imperative that the introduction to liquor consumption is delayed as much as possible. Both government authorities and private sector associated with liquor ills should aggressively embark on programmes that communicate to the public the ills associated with liquor abuse,” added the draft policy document.

Limiting access to alcohol

In addition to the proposed changes to the legal drinking age, the policy also looks at regulating the availability of liquor, as well as the pricing of liquor.

The policy stated: “To reduce the harmful use of alcohol, it is also important to regulate the availability of liquor. One of the strategies to reduce the availability of liquor includes the need to regulate days and hours when liquor sales should be permitted. Liquor authorities and municipalities need to control access to liquor by restricting times for sales of liquor. This should be done by setting norms and standards around trading hours.”

Furthermore, the accessibility of alcohol at public events and liquor outlets should be regulated. “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 offence 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.”

Lastly, the policy document highlighted that research suggests pricing policies can be used to reduce underage drinking, as well as to slow the progression of drinking large volumes of alcohol. “Increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is therefore one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol.”

Each year during the National Budget Speech, changes to sin taxes, including alcohol, are announced. The draft policy highlighted that “National Treasury must maintain a reasonable and appropriate excise tax burden on alcoholic beverages.” In addition, the draft policy noted that there may be scope for further increases to the excise duties on alcoholic beverages.


For more information on the Final National Liquor Policy, click here.

Click here to read our previous article on the proposed new drinking laws.

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