Alcohol industry queries ban chosen over plan to curb problem drinking

The SA alcohol industry has voiced concern that the renewed ban on the sale of liquor is a threat to livelihoods.
Image: City of Cape Town

The government’s ban on the sale of alcohol during the lockdown was reinstated without warning on Sunday night, and without considering the industry’s attempts to address behavioural changes around problem drinking.

This is the reaction from the SA alcohol industry, including the National Liquor Traders Council, SA Liquor Brand owners Association, the Beer Association of SA, Vinpro, the Liquor Traders Association of SA and manufacturers.

The industry said it has continuously engaged with government over the past month to ensure compliance with the limited trading days and hours imposed when the initial ban was modified, as well as adherence to the safety protocols in formal retail and taverns.

“Despite these engagements, the industry was given no warning about the ban, nor an opportunity to consult with the national coronavirus command centre before a decision was made. No consideration was given to the immediate logistical difficulties it poses for suppliers, distributors and retailers.”

“President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to reinstate the nationwide ban on the sales, dispensing, and distribution of alcohol with immediate effect is deeply troubling.

“The industry shares with the government its concerns regarding the increase in Covid-19 infections, and will continue to support efforts to curb this unprecedented health emergency. This includes prioritising lives and safeguarding livelihoods across the sector during this pandemic while ensuring that we adhere to safety, responsible trading and the sensible consumption of alcohol.

“We reiterate our commitment to partner with government to create a social compact that drives behavioural change regarding the use and consumption of alcohol. The industry initiated contact with the government in this regard on July 6, and we are awaiting a response.

“.While we acknowledge the urgency of the situation, it is crucial to understand the complexity of alcohol-related trauma so that we can sharpen our focus on the most effective interventions, and also measure their impact against a shared understanding of the facts and the problems. This requires access to health and alcohol-related information in private and public sector hospitals and clinics which government has never shared with industry.

“We believe a more useful approach would be targeting problematic drinking to manage and achieve long-term, lasting changes.

“The regulation imposed has a significant negative economic impact and could have been designed in a less damaging manner, but with the same alleviation of the impact on the healthcare system.”

The liquor industry said it is a value chain employing almost one million people across the country.

“The government’s decision has serious economic consequences, placing hundreds of thousands of livelihoods at risk.”

The ban also created the risk of the illegal market gaining a foothold, it cautioned.

“During the [previous] nine-week lockdown, the alcohol industry lost R18bn in revenue and R3.4bn in excise tax ( lost from growth in sellers of illegal alcohol products who don’t pay taxes.)

“As witnessed during the initial suspension of alcohol sales, further restricting legal trade will fuel the growth of the illicit market, a fact that is widely acknowledged internationally. It also creates security concerns for liquor outlets.

“The illicit market is outside the regulatory reach of government and operates mostly uncontrolled. For this restriction to be viable, it must be accompanied by considerably increased law enforcement in this part of the market.”

To preserve livelihoods, the alcohol industry called on government to engage with it over a social compact that drives behavioural change regarding the use and consumption of alcohol through:

  • countering unacceptable and irresponsible consumption;
  • intervention programmes and enforcement of policies to address gender-based violence and effect behavioural change;
  • firm interventions against drinking and driving/walking with renewed practical support for enforcement in collaboration with the transport department and the Road Traffic Management Corporation; and
  • dealing with illicit trade and enforcement.

BY TIMESLIVE

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