With the pressing matter of under aged drinking in our country, the Department of Trade and Industry took to action when it released the National Liquor Amendment Bill for public.

Within the proposed amended bill, are plans to increase the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, to restrict advertising of alcohol on prime-time television and radio, and to make alcohol companies liable for harms caused after an unlicensed sale. As can be expected these new changes are accompanied with much controversy, from both ends of the spectrum. Those concerned with public health, social and children’s issues make up the group who are in favour of the new proposed changes. However, those in support of economic factors like economic growth, consumer choice and libertarianism contest the government’s new approach.

To help unpack the impact of these proposed changes NEDLAC approached Genesis Analytics, an economic based consulting agency, as an impartial advisor to conduct an independent assessment from economic, health and social perspectives. Genesis was able to evaluate and determine the benefits to public health and society, together with the costs to the economy to produce a balanced view of impact. The team produced the most comprehensive review to date of the alcohol industry and consumption patterns. Included in the results of the review were four main challenges associated with the consumption of alcohol.

The first highlighted that although most South African don’t consume alcohol, those who do drink too much, making heavy binge drinking a big problem. A second issue is that of the early introduction and consumption of alcohol to minors as well as high levels of binge drinking by teens and young people. This is particularly dangerous for the cognitive development of the brain, which is only complete at 24. Thirdly, much hazardous drinking occurs in the large unlicensed sector. According to Genesis, there are about 2,3 times more unlicensed outlets than licensed. Lastly, findings revealed that those liquor laws that are currently in place are unfortunately poorly enforced in reality.

Concluding economic results revealed that the proposed amendments would lead to a reduction in alcohol consumption of between 3.2% and 7.4%. In addition, job creation in the alcohol industry would decrease, the advertising industry would lose about R400-million, while the media industries would lose about R800-million in revenue.

On the positive side, the proposals will help to bring down levels of hazardous drinking over time, slow the uptake of drinking by young people and create public health savings of up to R1.9-billion a year. We also estimate that about 185 lives a year will be saved from alcohol-related traffic fatalities. As this controversial public debate continues, the thing to watch out for is biased or inaccurate facts and figures. As with any difficult policy decision there are always trade-offs. These need to be understood and accepted.