Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health has agreed to formulate an ‘action plan’ around the issue of alcohol abuse in South Africa.
This follows a briefing from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) which found that the reintroduction of the sale of alcohol has led to a significant increase in trauma cases at the country’s hospitals.
Committee chairperson Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said that while relatively few South Africans consume alcohol, many of those who do, consume alcohol excessively.
He said that the committee is of the view that South Africa cannot continue to debate the gross domestic product (GDP) benefits of alcohol sales and not talk about ‘the costs of cleaning up’ after alcohol has been abused.
Hospital admissions, intensive care usage, gender-based violence and death all escalate as a result of excessive alcohol consumption, he said.
“The committee has agreed to meet next week to formulate an action plan on the basis of the report.
“This is in line with a letter sent to the Speaker of the National Assembly by a group of academics, researchers and policy specialists offering advice on steps to curb the abuse of alcohol in South Africa. The letter has since been referred to the committee for consideration.”
While the SAMRC’s presentation primarily focused on the impact of the coronavirus, an accompanying question paper developed by parliament’s internal research unit outlined some of the draft regulations which lawmakers should consider.
“South Africa needs to control alcohol in order to save lives, improve health, and strengthen the economy. This is possible given the listed three draft Bills that require deliberation in order to increase regulation,” the researchers said.
The three draft bills which have previously been mooted include:
- The Draft Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill of 2013;
- The Draft Traffic Amendment Bill of 2015;
- The Draft Liquor Amendment Bill of 2017.
The Draft Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill primarily deals with advertising, including where alcohol may be sold, what times alcohol advertisements may be shown on TV, and who alcohol may be sold to.
The Draft Liquor Amendment Bill proposes much more wide-reaching changes including:
- Increasing the drinking age to 21 years;
- The introduction of a 100-metre radius limitation of trade around educational and religious institutions;
- Banning of any alcohol sales and advertising on social and small media;
- The introduction of new liability clause for alcohol-sellers.
The Traffic Amendment Bill has already been approved by President Cyril Ramaphosa and is set to be introduced before the end of 2020.
Alongside a number of other traffic-related offences, it will create a zero-tolerance approach to drunk driving.
It introduces a total prohibition for the use and consumption of alcohol by all motor vehicle operators on South Africa’s public roads.
The National Road Traffic Act (NRA) currently enables those who have consumed alcohol to get behind the wheel provided they are under the blood alcohol limit.
These laws differentiate between normal drivers and professional drivers (those drivers who hold professional driving permits).
For normal drivers, the concentration of alcohol in any blood specimen must be less than 0.05 gram per 100 millilitres, and in the case of a professional driver, less than 0.02 gram per 100 millilitres.
The new laws would make this limit zero in both cases.