Share the good times – not the virus

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Ingrid Louw, CEO of aware.org – a harm reduction body of the South African alcohol industry – explains the importance of alcohol harm reduction during the Covid-19 third wave. Photo: Supplied
Ingrid Louw, CEO of aware.org – a harm reduction body of the South African alcohol industry – explains the importance of alcohol harm reduction during the Covid-19 third wave. Photo: Supplied

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Why has the alcohol industry suddenly become so interested in talking about alcohol harm reduction? Is this a way to try and mitigate alcohol bans?

There’s nothing sudden about this at all. Since the Association of Alcohol Responsibility and Education’s (aware.org) inception in 2017, more than R450 mill has been invested in social interventions to make South Africans aware of the need for responsible drinking and to enable a shared understanding of how to reduce the harmful consumption of alcohol.

We are intensifying our campaign during the pandemic in response to the call for action from Government. This is a firm and ongoing commitment from the industry and aware.org, who have always adopted a shared, collective approach to affect change.

But isn't it a misnomer to talk about “alcohol harm”? Isn't government being more realistic when it talks about banning alcohol sales during particularly intense periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, given that drinking attracts crowds and involves things like sharing drinks?

We believe harm reduction should always be front and center of both trading and consumer behaviour, not just during the pandemic.

Practicing safe behaviours – such as not sharing bottles or glasses, wearing face masks and avoiding crowded venues – during the pandemic, is crucial given the rise in infections, and respecting lockdown regulations such as curfews.

Government is clearly saying that it is up to us all to act responsibly so that we can all play a part in preventing further infections and, in so doing, save lives - and we fully agree with that.

The focus on responsible trading means complying with all liquor regulations, not selling or serving alcohol to underage persons, not selling to clearly inebriated people, or selling alcohol to pregnant women, which are practices that should apply whether there is a pandemic or not.

Similarly, with consumers, we want to encourage them to make responsible choices when drinking, such as knowing your limit, drinking in moderation (one or two drinks), and not drink-driving or walking.

We seem to have a particular challenge when it comes to young drinkers. What are you doing about that?

Interventions to combat underage drinking are a key pillar of aware.org’s broader mandate to reduce the harmful consumption of alcohol.

As a society, many do not realise the extent or implications of underage drinking.In fact, many parents, adults, and caregivers inadvertently encourage it through practices like sending children to buy alcohol or sending children to fetch alcohol from the fridge or liquor cabinet.

Alcohol, its advertising, and integration into all facets of communication and its consumption have become normalised with the result that there has been a de-sensitisation to its impact and effects. To effectively address the problem and associated risks of underage drinking, we need adults, parents, caregivers etc., to start having the right conversations, and earlier. Adults also need to acknowledge the passive role that they may play to encourage and ‘approve of’ underage drinking.

But alcohol advertising and marketing seems to encourage young people to drink…

The industry is clear and unambiguous – we say NO to underage drinking!

The industry and it’s extended value chain therefore have the responsibility to raise the standards of the sale, marketing and communication of alcohol to prevent underage drinking, especially in the context of COVID-19. This is being done through our newly adopted Underage ID verification intervention. To date, a national always-on social norms campaign including toolkits and key educational resources, have been developed for use and adoption by the industry, including retail, both in-store and online, extending to the entire alcohol value chain to further amplify the visible, voluntary commitment to address the compliance required in terms of underage drinking.

Our message is clear: We should share the good times – but not the virus.
And here we all have a role to play: government, the alcohol industry, community leaders, parents and the people who manage the alcohol brands. Only a collective, whole-society, multi-stakeholder effort will bring the results we desire and need.

For more information on aware.org head to www.aware.org.za.


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