You booze, YOU LOSE

Gov­ern­ment plans to clamp down on un­li­censed liquor out­lets and change the le­gal drink­ing age to 21

CityPress - - Business - DE­WALD VAN RENS­BURG de­wald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

The bot­tom line is we have a se­ri­ous and grow­ing prob­lem of al­co­hol abuse

The liquor in­dus­try would have to ac­cept the “con­se­quences” of the use of their prod­uct, said min­is­ter of trade and in­dus­try Rob Davies. De­spite that, noth­ing in the con­tentious Liquor Amend­ment Bill was “cast in stone”, he told a liquor in­dus­try ind­aba in Kemp­ton Park this week.

“I would ac­cept that, un­like to­bacco, al­co­hol is not nec­es­sar­ily harm­ful. This is not try­ing to pro­hibit al­co­hol, but the sta­tus quo is not work­ing ei­ther.”

The pro­posed amend­ments have in­vited a back­lash from the in­dus­try owing to some fun­da­men­tal changes to the way al­co­hol is reg­u­lated.

The fore­most change is to make the in­dus­try – in­clud­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers, whole­salers and re­tail­ers – jointly li­able for the dam­age done by un­li­censed liquor sales. This li­a­bil­ity kicks in when­ever any­one who gets drunk at an un­li­censed out­let does some­thing harm­ful.

That in­cludes deaths, in­juries or dam­age to prop­erty caused by car ac­ci­dents, fights or as­saults.

If al­co­hol was in­volved and if it can be shown that al­co­hol came from an un­li­censed out­let, the peo­ple who sup­plied the out­let can also face fines or im­pris­on­ment.

The amend­ment is de­signed to choke off the sup­ply of al­co­hol to un­li­censed out­lets at the whole­sale and man­u­fac­turer level by forc­ing them to more thor­oughly mon­i­tor their clients.

“You are not sup­posed to sup­ply un­li­censed out­lets ... Now you are go­ing to have to care,” said Davies.

By way of ex­am­ple he said that a whole­saler would be in­cen­tivised to query cus­tomers who buy vol­umes of booze that can­not pos­si­bly be for pri­vate con­sump­tion, but who can­not pro­duce a liquor li­cence.

“There are still a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of un­li­censed out­lets. Prod­ucts find their way there and whole­salers wash their hands of it,” he said.

“In my es­ti­ma­tion, this is one of the most im­por­tant pro­pos­als [in the bill]: to shift re­spon­si­bil­ity back on to the in­dus­try,” said Davies.

“We have a sit­u­a­tion in South Africa where there are of­fences un­der law that are not pros­e­cuted un­less there is a po­lice­man sit­ting right there,” said Davies. “At the mo­ment, the gov­ern­ment picks up the tab.” An­other ma­jor change pro­posed in the bill is to raise the le­gal drink­ing age from 18 to 21.

“I don’t have a per­sonal po­si­tion on this. There are strong views to be con­sid­ered,” said Davies.

“It is sen­si­tive and we are test­ing the pub­lic mood.”

The in­dus­try was not go­ing to get off by propos­ing con­sumer ed­u­ca­tion and drinkers’ re­spon­si­bil­ity as the an­swer, he said.

“Some pro­pos­als are de­bat­able and con­tro­ver­sial – I know that.

“The bot­tom line is we have a se­ri­ous and grow­ing prob­lem of al­co­hol abuse.

“It is not rea­son­able for you to tell us that the rule will also catch re­spon­si­ble drinkers. The onus is on you to say how it can be done bet­ter.

“If there is no bet­ter an­swer, it [21-year limit] will pre­vail,” he said.

Melvin Free­man, chief di­rec­tor of non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases at the de­part­ment of health, also ad­dressed the ind­aba.

“From a pub­lic health point of view, 21 makes far more sense than 18,” he said, cit­ing ev­i­dence from coun­tries that changed their lim­its.

He dis­missed the pop­u­lar ar­gu­ment that it is ab­surd to al­low 18-year-olds to vote, but not drink.

“The prece­dent is gun own­er­ship,” he said.

“The le­gal age for that is 21.”

An­other pro­posal in the bill that has come un­der at­tack is that no new liquor li­cences be granted to out­lets within 500m of schools, churches or houses.

Groups rep­re­sent­ing town­ship tav­erns, aided by SA Brew­eries, have made this a key con­tention, ar­gu­ing that this would ban all ex­ist­ing out­lets in most dense town­ships.

The ac­tual bill, how­ever, al­lows for the con­tin­u­a­tion of ex­ist­ing li­censed out­lets within 500m and prom­ises flex­i­bil­ity in dense ar­eas.

“Noth­ing here says ex­ist­ing she­beens must close,” said Davies.

“We will tweak the 500m for dense ar­eas ... but there are too many out­lets – that is the bot­tom line.”

He added that the bill might be changed to dis­tin­guish be­tween restau­rants that serve al­co­hol and out­lets that are sim­ply “drink­ing holes”.

“Maybe we need that dis­tinc­tion,” he said.

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