Will 21 be the new legal drinking age in SA?

Cape Town – Government is testing public sentiment with a proposal that the legal drinking age be raised from 18 to 21. 

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies on Monday released the national liquor amendment bill and the national gambling amendment bill for public consultation. 

South African citizens, communities and industry stakeholders will have 45 days to provide input on the draft legislation, which aims to tighten regulation to address the many social ills associated with drinking and gambling. 

“We acknowledge that the liquor industry contributes significantly to GDP, exports and employment, but it needs to be regulated because of the potential harmful effect it can have on individuals and communities as a whole,” Davies said. 

The consequences of alcohol abuse have an annual cost to government of R37.9bn, including hospitalisation, accidents and various social problems. According to Davies, alcohol abuse in South Africa is on the up with South Africans consuming five billion litres of alcohol per year. 

Davies said one of the proposals contained in the Liquor Policy Paper was to increase the legal drinking age to 21.

“We hope this debate will also involve people who have to deal with the consequences,” Davies said, citing research that showed young people’s brains only reach full development in their mid-20s.

READ: What is the legal drinking age around the world?

“The impact of alcohol abuse is, therefore, much more severe on young people than on a fully developed brain.” 

Civil liability

With the new draft legislation government also wants to crack down on liquor wholesalers who sell alcohol indiscriminately, irrespective of whether the outlets to which they sell are licensed or not. 

READ: Liquor industry counters proposed govt crackdown

In addition, liquor stores and so-called "drinking holes" that sell liquor to people who are already intoxicated will be liable for damages if the intoxicated person causes damage to property or commits an offense as a result of his or her drunkenness. 

Advertising 

Liquor advertising will also be regulated much more strictly.

“There’s going to be a blanket prohibition on advertising that targets young people and all adverts will be required to indicate the harmful effects of alcohol,” Davies said. 

The draft legislation will also make provision for greater leniency towards facilities where consuming alcohol is not the only activity, such as restaurants, whereas “outright drinking holes” will be targeted. 

Gambling 

As with the liquor industry, the gambling sector has also been a significant contributor to GDP and employment, but stronger regulation is required, said Davies. 

Davies cited a news report that estimated the losses associated with gambling to have been more than R17bn in 2014. Among individuals who gamble regularly this translates to a loss of R3 000 per month. 

READ: Illegal gambling costing SA millions

In addition to limiting the number of machines for electronic bingo and limited pay-out machines, Davies said government will also tighten its grip on people who gamble illegally. That means the winnings of people who gamble unlawfully will be confiscated. 

Government will specifically target individuals who gamble online.

“If you go online and you win, we’ll get you. Online gambling is illegal, whatever the website may tell you.” 

Davies and his department plan to work together with the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) and other inspectorates to bring to book online gamblers. 

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