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Legal Drinking Age in South Africa: Should it be 21?

The legal drinking age in South Africa could be changed from 18 years of age to 21. This comes after the Liquor Amendment Bill gained momentum in early 2018, and is now in front of Cabinet awaiting to be passed through Parliament.

The most recent statistics (2016) from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that South Africa is in the top 20 of the biggest drinking countries in the world, and the third biggest in Africa. Somewhat worryingly, the WHO report also showed that more than a quarter of the drinking population in South Africa are considered binge drinkers, consuming at least 60 grams or more of pure alcohol in one session within a 30-day period.

Naturally, this doesn’t just have consequences on the individuals consuming the alcohol. According to IOL, alcohol-related health and crime incidents reportedly cost the South African government billions of rand every year, with health costs alone estimated at 5% of total public health spending.

Not to mention, widespread alcohol abuse in many communities has led to several cases of domestic violence. Thus, the new law was initially met favourably, thanks to the thinking that further restrictions on the accessibility of alcohol will decrease booze-related crimes.

But, of course, the primary target of the new law is the youth of South Africa; however, some argue that raising the age limit to purchase alcohol will likely have no significant effect on alcohol abuse amongst teenagers, since the current limit of 18 isn’t much of a deterrent. According to the Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA), 25% of young people binge-drink and 12% of under 13-year-olds said they had drunk alcohol in the past month.

Insiders have linked this rise in minors drinking liquor to the prevalence of alcohol advertising, particularly at sporting events. Thus, the Liquor Amendment Bill also calls for a ban on alcohol advertising , and it could result in alcohol advertising on radio and television being banned from 6am to 10pm. Researchers from Nedlac are convinced that the one-two punch of banning advertising and raising the legal drinking age will be effective, and estimate that it would reduce alcohol consumption 3.2%-7.4% among those aged 15 years and older.

Of course, this potential ban on alcohol marketing has the advertising and media industries in a panic. According to a report on a study for the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), restricting alcohol advertising in the time period mentioned above would result in a loss of revenue amounting to R400m for advertising agencies and R800m for the media, particularly television.

So it goes without saying that the proposed liquor law amendments are controversial, and only time will tell whether or not it will be effective. The exact date of when the new law will be implemented has yet to be determined.

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