'Increase the price of alcohol and restrict sales': understanding the latest proposals

05 August 2020 - 13:00 By Unathi Nkanjeni
Prof Charles Parry of the South African Medical Research Council has proposed alcohol be allowed to be sold three days a week, the prices be increased and bottle sizes be restricted.
Prof Charles Parry of the South African Medical Research Council has proposed alcohol be allowed to be sold three days a week, the prices be increased and bottle sizes be restricted.
Image: 123rf.com /Joshua Resnick

Various proposals for lifting the ban on alcohol sales have been proposed to the government by scientists and organisations to prioritise livelihoods amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest proposal is a three-day window to purchase alcohol that was proposed by Prof Charles Parry of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). 

Here is what you need to know.

Basket of measures

According to Parry, the government could lift the ban gradually while still ensuring that saving lives is balanced with saving livelihoods.

President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed the second ban on alcohol three weeks ago.

Speaking to 702, Parry, who is the director of the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs research unit at SAMRC, said it was time to lift the ban. Parry said a “basket of measures” must be introduced to control people's consumption habits.

Three-day window to buy booze

Parry proposed that liquor sales should be allowed three days a week, saying that would prevent impulse buying among consumers.

He also suggested that alcohol prices should be increased and that there should be a limit on the sale of beer and ciders to 500ml bottles, while wine and spirits should be limited to 750ml.

Parry said reducing the amount of alcohol which a person could purchase should also be considered.

“One of the things we’d look at doing would be limiting the days alcohol could go on sale, making it available for just three days a week. But you have to be aware of things such as overcrowding. Many of our people buy alcohol impulsively on the day, we can limit things such as ‘of the moment purchasing’," he said.

Lifting the ban could steer SA to recovery 

According to Business Leadership SA, rethinking the decision on the ban of cigarette and alcohol sales could steer SA’s economy back on the path to recovery.

The organisation said the unintended consequences of the ban have caused harm that far outweighs whatever positive outcomes it hoped to achieve.

It referred to a recent study by the University of Cape Town, which found that the ban on tobacco products has “done nothing more than fuel the illicit trade industry” and the researchers have since called for its immediate repeal.

BLSA policy and legislation director Tebele Luthuli said the lockdown had made it even more profitable to trade in illegal tobacco and alcohol products.

“Supply and demand have meant that sellers can charge premium prices. This illegal practice has weakened the private sector’s contribution to employment opportunities and long-term economic growth. This will eventually undermine the rule of law and citizens’ trust in government,” said Luthuli.

Loss of tax revenue

Luthuli said the bans had also led to a loss of tax revenue from the sale of cigarettes and alcohol which is instead diverted to illegal traders who have taken full advantage.

“Our government desperately needs every cent of tax revenue to curb this scourge and save lives, which will ultimately be used to build the shattered economy once this pandemic is over.

“The government needs to be flexible around the alcohol ban. We also welcome and support the recommendations from the South African Medical Research Council calling for the lifting of the alcohol ban because there is no extreme pressure on hospital beds set aside to treat Covid-19 patients,” Luthuli said.

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