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Hard drinking country

20 July 2004 Angelo Coppola

Kerry Cullinan writing in this second of a two-part article for the Health-e News Service reports that regulations have not yet been published, although the health department’s acting director of the substance abuse directorate, Sifiso Phakathi, claims th

Provinces have the power to regulate how liquor is sold and the Western Cape has been working on this for a number of years. Its draft liquor policy, which was published for comment last year, is expected to come before the legislature this year.

According to the draft policy, it will be an offence to be drunk in public or to sell alcohol to drunk people. It will be illegal to drink in vehicles while driving or parked in public places.

It will also be illegal for employers to provide alcohol to employees as part of their wages.

Shebeens that have traditionally operated from people’s homes will be encouraged to relocate to more suitable areas “through a programme of incentives and enforcement”.

But regulating alcohol consumption is complicated and difficult. Phakathi says government’s alcohol interventions are “in so many ways similar to the tobacco interventions”.

But unlike smoking, there is some merit in moderate drinking with a fairly substantial body of research showing that moderate drinkers are at less risk of heart attacks than teetotallers.

ARA’s Makan warns that, if liquor manufacturers are forced to put warning labels on their bottles, they might well counter by advertising the benefits of moderate drinking – something they have voluntarily refrained from doing.

But Parry, who was part of the panel that drafted the Western Cape policy, believes that promoting the merits of moderate drinking is inappropriate in South Africa with our large youth population and patterns of heavy drinking.

"The benefits of moderate drinking are typically for older people, men over 40 and postmenopausal women, and can be gained from as little as a drink every other day," says Parry.

"These benefits can also be obtained in other ways such as by exercise, giving up smoking or taking an aspirin. Drinking to intoxication certainly negates any positive effects of alcohol use,” he warns.

Makan also says that banning drink advertisements has little effect on liquor consumption, as advertising primarily influences brand loyalty.

“There is a high level of alcohol abuse in De Aar, for example, but that community has little exposure to alcohol advertisements,” he says.

“The risk factors for alcohol abuse are poverty, lack of recreation, unemployment and poor education,” adds Makan. “You can’t address alcohol abuse without addressing these.”

Parry believes government’s response to alcohol abuse is inadequate and fragmented.

For him, priorities are to enforce no alcohol sales to those under the age of 18, to increase taxes to international levels and to implement a coherent policy for liquor outlets, including ensuring that unregistered shebeens are brought into the regulated market.

He also believes in more effective drink-driving measures. These include many more random breathalyser tests, a graduated license policy for newly licensed drivers whereby they will not be permitted to drink and drive for three years after obtaining a drivers license, license suspensions for drivers above the legal limit and counselling for high risk drivers.

But as Linda Dhabicharan, director of Childline KwaZulu-Natal, says in the latest issue of “Children First”: “Individuals do not become violent because they are drunk. They get drunk to become violent.

“Alcohol allows people to engage in deviant behaviour as they wish, without holding themselves responsible for the outcome.”

To address effectively the root causes of alcohol abuse, many other social factors including poverty and the disintegration of families, will need to be addressed.

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