Tighten drinking and smoking laws even when Covid-19 is gone: experts

Ministerial Advisory Committee also suggests additional taxes

27 August 2020 - 15:56 By Matthew Savides
The Ministerial Advisory Committee said continuing the prohibition on alcohol and tobacco products no longer offered significant value to the country’s health services during the Covid-19 pandemic. Government should look at the regulations once the pandemic crisis was over, it said.
The Ministerial Advisory Committee said continuing the prohibition on alcohol and tobacco products no longer offered significant value to the country’s health services during the Covid-19 pandemic. Government should look at the regulations once the pandemic crisis was over, it said.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

SA should consider additional regulations around booze and smokes, even when Covid-19 is no longer a factor.

This was one of the pieces of advice the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19 gave to health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize 10 days ago. The committee said while there were no longer medical reasons to maintain the prohibition on alcohol and tobacco products as the country moved to level 2 lockdown laws, these two products needed to be looked at in the future.

“There may be many non-Covid-19 related reasons for additional controls on both tobacco and alcohol, such as increased taxes and controls on quantities. These should be implemented separately at a later stage unlinked to Covid-19,” the committee said in a letter dated August 17, the day SA moved to level 2.

The health ministry on Thursday released to the public 45 of the MAC advisories, with Mkhize saying that “less than 5%” of the advisories were not implemented in their entirety.

“This followed consultations with various stakeholders and in some instances, guidelines published by institutions such as the [World Health Organisation]. Over the years, the department of health has had the benefit of gaining expert insight through various Ministerial Advisory Committees dealing with a plethora of health issues. This has helped the department and government in making informed decisions and implementing policy that takes into account views of specialists that are in constant contact with patients, in our pursuit to improve health service delivery and improve the lives of our people,” said Mkhize in a statement.

In the August 17 document, the MAC said continuing the prohibition on alcohol and tobacco products no longer offered significant value to the country’s health services. This, the committee said, was because the number of Covid-19 cases was on the decline and the health system could cope with any incidents linked to the two products.

“The imperative to implement interventions aimed at protecting health services so that they are better able to cope with the surge is no longer essential. Therefore, most of the health reasons for maintaining restrictions on tobacco and alcohol fall away,” the committee said.

It also added that any fears that tobacco “may cause more severe forms of Covid-19” were no longer a concern.

“The health care system will be in a better position to deal with this once there is a consistent decline in cases and health services are no longer under the pressure of the surge in cases,” the MAC said.

However, it said that some of the restrictions on booze should be retained — an approach the government followed by restricting alcohol sales to Monday to Thursday.

“With regard to alcohol, a stepwise easing of restrictions may be more appropriate based on the experiences of easing alcohol restrictions at the end of Level 4. The main goal for maintaining some temporary restrictions on alcohol is to reduce the sharp rise in initial binge drinking and dangerous drunkenness as seen with the easing of the previous alcohol restrictions,” the letter reads.

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