Alcohol abuse is a menace to socie

02 October 2013

Phumla WilliamsThe release of the annual South African Police Service (SAPS) crime statistics is always followed by a national debate on crime in South Africa, and rightly so. Crime should concern all of us as it affects everyone.

Government’s fight against crime is part of an integrated approach; only when people are and able to feel safe in their homes, their places of work, their communities and their own streets will we be able to have fully accomplished the goal of a better life for all.
The latest statistics released by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa reveal that to a large extent crime is on the decline but that challenges still remain.

Both Minister Mthethwa and Police Commissioner Riyah Phiyega spoke of the serious problems posed by alcohol and drug abuse.

The crime statistics show that the SAPS seized 1.8 billion litres of alcohol during 2012/13 and closed down 74 547 illegal liquor premises. This is truly a staggering figure that is made even more worrying by the SAPS confirming that alcohol and substance abuse is a major contributing factor to crime in South Africa.

Alcohol abuse is often at the heart of so-called contact crimes which include murder, attempted murder, sexual offences, assault resulting in grievous bodily harm, common assault, and robbery. Some families risk being totally destroyed because of the extent of alcohol abuse, it is estimated that around 70 per cent of domestic violence is associated with alcohol.

According to the statistics of the past nine years, both murder and attempted murder have thankfully been markedly reduced, down by 27.2 per cent and attempted murder has been reduced by 51.7 per cent in this period. However, both of these showed a slight increase in the latest statistics.

Minister Mthethwa highlighted that the two categories of crime had increased due to various factors but highlighted the role alcohol abuse plays in contact crimes. The latest statistics show that alcohol abuse is one of the major contributing factors for violent crime in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape.

As a responsible government we cannot stand idly by and allow alcohol abuse to destroy individuals, families and entire communities. As such we will explore every avenue that may lead to the reduction of harm caused by alcohol abuse.

Cabinet approved that the Control of Marketing of Alcohol Beverages Bill should be gazetted for public comment. The intention of the Bill is to reduce the exposure to the advertising and promotion of alcohol. It proposes restricting the advertisement of alcoholic beverages; prohibiting any sponsorship associated with alcoholic beverages (excluding donations) and prohibiting any promotion of alcoholic beverages.

Research indicates that alcohol advertising influences behaviour negatively. It fosters positive beliefs about drinking and encourages young people to drink alcohol sooner and in great quantities. A study of 20 countries over 26 years found that alcohol advertising bans do decrease the consumption of alcohol.

Best practices for dealing with alcohol abuse call for a control on pricing and marketing. Our laws dictate when and where alcohol may be sold, there are policies in place to prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors. Government also has implemented numerous measures to increase public education about drunk driving and the harmful use of alcohol.

However, as the impact of alcohol abuse on the latest crime statistics shows these protections are not enough. A 2009 Lancet review lists a comprehensive advertising ban on alcohol as one of the three most effective methods to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol advertising tends to glamorise and encourages the use of a product that causes serious harm to individuals and to society. It is impossible to view an alcohol advert and not be fascinated by the lifestyle it seeks to portray. Children and youth are particularly susceptible to such an approach. International research indicates that advertising does influence child and youth behaviour, despite claims by the industry that youth are not targeted.

Who can ever forget the massive outcry when government first proposed the banning of tobacco marketing in South Africa a number of years ago. There were arguments that it would not work and that the approach was all wrong. However, the banning resulted in reduced consumption patterns and there is little reason to doubt that this will also be true with regard to alcohol marketing.

The ‘tangible’ cost to the country of alcohol related harm across government departments have been estimated at around R38 billion while research indicates that the intangible costs could be as high as R240 billion. The tangible cost is twice what government receives from excise tax and VAT on alcohol combined.

Some will argue that a ban on advertising will result in a reduction in sales and will consequently reduce government revenue in terms of both excise tax and Value Added Tax. This argument may have some merit; however the potential loss in revenue will be counterbalanced by government saving from reduction in alcohol related harm.

Alcohol consumption in South Africa results in significant morbidity and mortality, increases violence, crime and accidents, has major consequences for individuals, families and communities and impacts negatively on education and the economy.

We are a responsible government and we are duty-bound by our constitution to protect the health and wellbeing of all South Africans. Section 27 of the Constitution requires that the state takes reasonable legislative and other measures to protect the health and wellbeing of everyone. Therefore we will do whatever it takes to stop the scourge of alcohol abuse and its negative consequences to society. Such legislative interventions can only compliment what government is striving for in respect of healthy and safer communities.

The proposed Bill affects everyone, alcohol and substance abuse has emerged as a real to families and communities, therefore your voice and your opinion is critical. Government calls on South Africans to comment on Bill and join in the debate on it.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)