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Raise booze prices to curb murderous violence, experts beg government

18 June 2020 - 17:52 By Dave Chambers
Medical experts are calling on the government to restrict alcohol sales to curb gender-based violence.
Medical experts are calling on the government to restrict alcohol sales to curb gender-based violence.
Image: City of Cape Town

Higher prices, a drinking age of 19 and a ban on all alcohol advertising are among the measures demanded by experts on Thursday in response to President Cyril Ramaphosa's warning of "drastic measures" to curb alcohol abuse.

Nine signatories, headed by Medical Research Council (SAMRC) president Prof Glenda Gray, supported Ramaphosa's pledge, which came in his televised speech on Wednesday after gender-based violence claimed the lives of at least 21 women and children in June.

“It is now time to put the rights of women and children first – those who are or will become victims of harmful use of alcohol. There is global evidence of what needs to be done now,” said Gray and her co-signatories, representing the council, the University of Cape Town School of Public Health, the board of the Western Cape Liquor Authority and the DG Murray Trust.

In what they called a "public appeal to the government", they added: “While social drinkers may feel that price increases and other restrictions are unfair on them, it is time to face up to what ‘unfair’ really means for women and children. We reiterate the president’s view that if we don’t act, we are all complicit in these crimes.”

SAMRC president Prof Glenda Gray.
SAMRC president Prof Glenda Gray.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

The experts called on the government to draw on international evidence, including the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and implement measures that have been effective in other countries. These include:

  • banning alcohol advertising;
  • increasing the price of alcohol, through excise taxes and by introducing a minimum price per unit of pure alcohol in liquor products;
  • reducing the legal limit for drinking and driving to a blood alcohol content of 0.02% or below;
  • reducing the availability of alcohol, especially in residential areas, by limiting the density of outlets, shortening trading hours and ending the sale of alcohol in larger containers like litre bottles of beer; and
  • increasing the availability of counselling and medically assisted treatment for people struggling with dependence.

Gray said the extent of alcohol abuse and its link with violent crime was without equal in Africa and should be a source of deep shame to all South Africans.

Although only a third of adults drink alcohol, 60% of them binged - a habit strongly associated with interpersonal violence, road accidents and risky behaviour.

The experts said the measures they suggested should be "supported by other interventions shown to be effective, including raising the legal drinking age to 19 years and enforcement of public drinking by-laws".

"Furthermore, we need to ensure that product tracking and tracing is in place to close the supply routes to illegal vendors. These provisions are included in the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill," they added.

"We call on the government to proceed with the implementation of this bill and other stalled legislation aimed at reducing alcohol harm, such as the Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill."

The other signatories are Prof Charles Parry of the SAMRC; Prof Richard Matzopoulos of the SAMRC and UCT School of Public Health; Western Cape Liquor Authority board members Prof Lukas Muntingh, Dr Laurine Platzky, Undere Deglon and Lizanne Venter; and Dr David Harrison and Carol-Ann Foulis of the DG Murray Trust.