Sensible drinking is a joint effort
Next month will mark a full year since President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster in response to theCovid-19 pandemic.
When the National Disaster Act was passed in 2002, our legislators could not have foreseen that we would one day face a disaster that could last a whole year. They made provision for a three-month period during which our human rights could be curtailed, and allowed for monthly extensions at the discretion of the executive.
These monthly lockdown extensions, accompanied by what are now termed “family meetings”, have become a standard feature of our public life, with limited engagement on some of the shortcomings in the national response to the pandemic.
One of the most contested executive decisions has been the total prohibition of all forms of alcohol sales on three occasions, fora total of four-and-a-half months. The government has further indicated that a future alcohol ban is “not inconceivable” depending on how the pandemic plays out.
Containing Covid-19 requires a collective effort from all sectors. The liquor industry has had to grapple with at least two critical issues since Covid emerged: the risk of infections from social gatherings in events and venues where alcohol is consumed, and the risk of injury arising from alcohol misuse.
Interventions have included a voluntary cancellation of alcohol brand sponsorship of all festive season entertainment activities and the hiring of 1,000 community patrollers to support the police in enforcing compliance in the most affected provinces —the Eastern and Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. The industry further committed to cut supplies to any liquor outlet flouting the regulations. But the effectiveness of this commitment is dependent on liquor authorities and the police acting on their mandate to review licence conditions.
The quick response of Eastern Cape authorities to the recent video depicting gross noncompliance at an East London venue is a good example of what should be done.
Injuries arising from alcohol misuse are one of the areas of alcohol abuse that the industry has grappled with in past years. It was brought into sharp focus by the need to preserve capacity in the health system.
Alcohol abuse is a behavioural issue that cannot be eradicated through more legislation while existing laws — such as those against drunk driving, illegal trading or under-age drinking — are not adequately enforced. What is needed is an enhanced focus on behavioural change interventions and a massive improvement in enforcement.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes.
We need objective research into the core drivers of the behaviour, and creative, sustained solutions with measurable milestones. As the alcohol sector, we are intensifying efforts to encourage more responsible drinking behaviour and responsible trading.
The industry has proposed a new social compact to the government to address long term behavioural and other issues that contribute to alcohol harm. This involves increased investment to tackle three critical areas : binge drinking, drinking and driving, and under-age drinking.
One initiative, DRINKiQ, uses evidence based content to encourage consumers to help save lives by making more responsible drinking choices.
The alcohol industry will continue to seek collaboration with the government and other sectors to establish a combined effort that can bring the most effective, sustainable change to alcohol abuse. Our aim is to change the way people relate to and use alcoholic beverages. We want to build a balanced scenario where lives will be saved and livelihoods preserved.
• Mngadi is the corporate relations director at Diageo SA and chair of the South African Liquor Brand owners Association
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