Scientists urged government to tighten alcohol regulations before outright ban

15 July 2020 - 17:27 By Aphiwe Deklerk
Scientists tasked with researching alcohol, tobacco and other drugs advised government that an outright ban on alcohol sales would result in a push-back from drinkers, the liquor industry and associated businesses.
Scientists tasked with researching alcohol, tobacco and other drugs advised government that an outright ban on alcohol sales would result in a push-back from drinkers, the liquor industry and associated businesses.
Image: 123rf.com /Joshua Resnick

Top scientists advised the government to impose stricter measures to curb alcohol abuse before an outright ban.

This was revealed in parliament on Wednesday when the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) presented a report used to brief health minister Zweli Mkhize's advisory committee.

Presenting the report, Dr Charles Parry, who is part of the SAMRC unit focusing on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, raised the issue of imposing stricter measures before an outright ban.

“Strategically, we did push to the [advisory committee] that it might be useful to consider adopting the lesser approach of this basket of intervention initially, and seeing how it goes for a few weeks before going ahead with the ban, if required, to prevent a push-back from the public and the liquor industry and associated businesses.

“It might also make it easier to defend legal challenges because then the government could say they initiated less intrusive strategies first,” said Parry.

He said they had been tasked by a sub-committee of the ministerial advisory team to conduct the research on Monday last week before the ban was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday.

The SAMRC report is titled “Impact of Alcohol on Health Services in South Africa”, and it shows a huge increase in admissions to hospital trauma units since the lifting of the alcohol ban last month. 

It was meant to look at the effect of the alcohol ban under level 3.

“The questions we were asked by the committee last Monday were effectively: what would be the effect of reimposing a ban on liquor sales during level three on trauma related hospital visits and admissions?; and  what would be the effect of placing tighter restrictions on alcohol access as opposed to a ban on liquor sales, in terms of reducing the burden on the public health-care system and trauma admissions? That was the one we added because we felt we also needed to look at that,” said Parry.

He said the report was submitted and later taken to the National Coronavirus Command Council and discussed last Thursday.

It showed there were 34,000 trauma incidents presented in hospitals across the country, and 50% of them were alcohol-related.

Parry said with the ban, they were expecting a 20% drop in cases for the first week but after four weeks of the ban, they were expecting a maximum drop of 40%. 

Parry also presented measures that should have been put in place when the country moved to level 3 of the lockdown which would have decreased the number of alcohol-related trauma cases.

They included restrictions on quantities of alcohol allowed for resale, the introduction of a plan to reduce blood alcohol level for drivers and other measures, such as a ban on alcohol advertising.

“We also talked about the possibility of implementing tracking systems so we can track products when it is being illegally sold, and then pushing options for treatment because there are many people who, now that we have a ban on liquor sales and they can't get alcohol, will be struggling with dependence and withdrawal,” he said.

Parry said, however, there was a feeling that it would be harder to model the measures in the time available and that they were more challenging to implement as opposed to the ban.


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