MRC wants legal drinking age in SA to be raised & liquor prices hiked

The South African Medical Research Council is advocating raising the legal drinking age from 18 years to 19 or 21, as well as higher prices and taxes on alcohol.

FILE: Customers queue outside the Ultra Liquors in Wynberg, Cape Town following the relaxation of alcohol sale restrictions on 1 June 2020. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/EWN

CAPE TOWN - The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) is arguing for much tighter controls over the sale and advertising of alcohol once the most recent sales ban is lifted.

It was re-imposed to help keep hospital beds free of alcohol-related trauma cases as health services deal with an influx of COVID-19 cases.

The decision was based on advice from experts, including members of the council.

The SAMRC is advocating raising the legal drinking age to 19 or 21 from 18 years old, higher prices and taxes on alcohol, limiting the number of liquor outlets, advertising only at the point of sale and other measures, including steps to curb drunk driving.

The SAMRC’s Dr Charles Parry said a comprehensive national strategy on alcohol was needed.

“We need a clear, multi-sectoral national plan. Our national liquor policy is not strong or comprehensive enough.

"We also need competent empowered leadership to drive the plan. We need to ensure that a plan is properly funded. We also need to be aware of conflicts of interest when engaging with the industry.”

Parry said that as a start, the government should quickly move ahead on liquor legislation that had got stuck in the works and gone nowhere.

Parry told Parliament’s Health Committee that only 31% of South Africans drank, lower than the world average of 43%. But those who do, consume five to six drinks each day and nearly 60% of them binge drink at least once a month, a much higher average than in the rest of Africa and nine percentage points higher than the world average.

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