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Drinks firms could be liable for harm done by drunks

26 February 2018; Linda Ensor

Wheels are turning: Department of Trade and Industry director-general Lionel October speaks at a parliamentary committee meeting. He says it will take two to three weeks to finalise the proposed liquor law. Picture:  

The Department of Health is seeking a ban on alcohol advertising in the controversial Liquor Amendment Bill now with the Cabinet.

If Parliament passes the bill, alcohol advertising on radio and television will be banned from 6am to 10pm and the age limit for drinking will be raised from 18 to 21 years.

Department of Trade and Industry director-general Lionel October confirmed on Friday that the bill had entered the cabinet process, but said it would take two-three weeks to finalise because the Department of Health was pushing for a total ban on all alcohol advertising.

After finalisation by the cabinet subcommittee the bill will be submitted to the full Cabinet for approval.

Alcohol-related health and crime incidents are understood to cost the government billions of rand every year with health costs alone estimated at 5% of total public-health spending.

According to a report on a study for the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) by research consultants Genesis Analytics, restricting alcohol advertising from 10pm and 6am would result in a loss of revenue amounting to R400m for advertising agencies and R800m for the media, particularly television.

In the report, the researchers proposed a more targeted restriction on alcohol advertising on programmes and channels with an adult audience.

They did, however, find strong evidence that young people exposed to alcohol advertising were more likely to start drinking earlier, drink more and binge drink.

There was evidence that exposure to alcohol advertising resulted in increased drinking by young people who were already heavy drinkers.

The researchers estimated that the combination of a raising of the legal drinking age and a restriction on alcohol advertising would reduce alcohol consumption 3.2%-7.4% among those aged 15 years and older.

Industry sources said the revised bill submitted to the cabinet subcommittee was largely unchanged from the draft published for public comment.

They said they believed few changes were made to the bill to take account of the findings of the Genesis study presented to Nedlac in November last year.

Still in the revised bill is the age limit and the ban on alcohol advertising from 6am to 10pm, although it is understood that the final version omits the prohibition on the location of liquor outlets within a certain distance from churches, schools etc.

But the provision to limit the number of licences for the retailing of liquor is understood to have been retained.

If passed, the legislation will hold liquor makers legally liable for branded products found in unlicensed outlets and for damages caused by any individual consumer while under the influence of liquor.

SA Liquor Brand-owners Association chairman Sibani Mngadi said the association was not aware of any changes in the provisions of the bill as a result of the “credible, scientific study” commissioned by Nedlac. “Continuing with the bill in its current form runs contrary to the call by President Cyril Ramaphosa to all sectors to ignite the economy and create jobs,” Mngadi said. “The Nedlac study recommends better ways of dealing with alcohol abuse in society without wiping out 1500 jobs.”

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