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Government should be commended for firm action on alcohol

SAAPA commends the National Department of Health and Department of Trade and Industry for continuing to act on their mandate with legislation that will contribute to better health for South Africans.

The findings of the research report undertaken by Genesis Analytics on behalf of NEDLAC after the last round of negotiations between government, labor and business, and funded by the South African Liquor Brand Association, confirms arguments that public health researchers and practitioners have long advanced that stricter legislation is good for health.

The report provides strong and clearly-reasoned evidence that adoption of the National Liquor Act with specific reference to the provisions around restricting advertising, increasing the legal drinking age to 21 years, changes to licensing requirements and extending liability to manufacturers, depending on Low versus High impact, will result in

  • A decline in tax revenue of between R 0.3 bill and R 1.1 bill.
  • A saving in government spending of between R 0.7 and R 1.9 Billion (including savings on government spending on public health of between R 0.3 and 0.73 billion), thus yielding a net gain to the fiscus.
  • At least 185 lives will be saved a year due to a 3% reduction in alcohol-related road traffic fatalities not to mention additional reduction in HIV transmission, crime, violence and gender-based violence.

Hence, NOT only will adopting the Act save lives, and stop young people from drinking so early, but the government will save the country money!

Importantly, the report states that the adoption of these provisions will result in decreased consumption of up to 7.4% amongst youth 15 years and older and amongst heavy drinkers. Currently, only 44% of South Africans actually drink but we are among the heaviest consumers among drinkers globally. Of those that drink 23% are heavy drinkers. So the main problem is not how many people drink but how much is consumed by those who drink. According to Prof. Charles Parry of the SAMRC, every day approximately 170 people die of alcohol related harm (11.8% of all deaths). In a study undertaken by SAMRC in 2014, “…53% of the drinkers in Tshwane were found to be heavy drinkers.” The alcohol industry’s profits depend on these people continuing to drink heavily and also on an increase in drinking among young people. The latter is reflected in the marketing and advertising of alcohol which emphasises youthful, fun and socially enhancing images and messages. International and South African research has demonstrated that alcohol advertising increases the likelihood that young people start to drink and increases the risk of binge drinking among children and young people.

We call on the Department of Health move ahead with the 2013 Cabinet decision to ensure public consultation on the proposed ban on alcohol advertising, and which prohibits sponsorship of sports by alcohol companies. Research shows that children’s exposure to alcohol advertising is highest through watching and participating in sport.

The Genesis report also confirms that the job loss often touted by the industry as reasons for not adopting stricter legislation, will in fact be negligible. By 2025 only about 1533 (3.7%) of the current 41177 jobs directly employed by the alcohol industry could be lost. And for advertising, the report estimates that only 1% of current advertising spend will be lost, with only 688 jobs affected. While this is an adverse impact, it will be made up by other sources and compensated for by the prevention of massive adverse health and social impacts. It is certainly not the tragedy predicted, without impartial evidence, by those opposing the legislation. In total, job losses over the coming 7 years associated with implementing the Act in the liquor and advertising industry will be dwarfed by, for example, the thousands of jobs lost in one year in the mining sector in 2017.

These are 2 issues that the alcohol industry has consistently used to object to stricter legislation. But it is clear that when the evidence is impartially examined, there is no real grounds to argue against advertising bans – given the benefits that outweigh the relatively modest harms.

SAAPA expresses it support for government in acting on its mandate to protect and promote the health of its citizens – and to realise the human rights of all South Africans to an environment not harmful to health, to bodily integrity and to the highest attainable standard of health.

This will be a huge advance for South Africa, the Southern African region and the world as the government regains its place as a leader in progressive public policy addressing the needs of the most vulnerable of our population. Mr. President, we look forward to you and your cabinet acting on your 8th January speech whereby you acknowledged the harms of alcohol to our fragile, developing democracy and economy. Rather than diverting needed resources, a sound evidence-based and equitable public policy that puts people first will support the government’s development agenda.  As public health researchers and practitioners, we are ready to lend a hand.

Sincerely yours

Philip Chimponda

Prof. Charles Parry
Director: Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit
Board Member: Global Alcohol Policy Alliance

Dr Coenie Louw
Founder, Director for Health and Nutrition

Lebo Ramafoko
Chief Executive Officer

Dean Peacock
Chief Executive Officer

Anele Yawa
General Secretary

Prof Usuf Chikte
Executive Head: Department of Global Health
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

Prof Landon Myer
Head and Director
School of Public Health and Family Medicine

Prof Leslie London
Head: Division of Public Health Medicine
School of Public Health and Family Medicine

Prof Chirwa
Head: School of Public Health

Dr Andre Rose

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