Alcohol Abuse is Linked to Gender-Based Violence, So Why Are Increased Alcohol Prices Not in the Liquor Amendment Bill? 19/12/2016

Published by SONKEGENDERJUSTICE

The highly contentious draft Liquor Amendment Bill 2016 has been the
topic of debate for many months now. With the submission date for public
comments finally concluding on Thursday 15 December, it is timeous to
consider one of the more perplexing omissions in the Bill.

But first, let’s look back to Friday 25 November; the craziness that
was Black Friday. Thousands of people rushed frantically to retail and
grocery stores, in the hopes of getting a great deal – which was pretty
much assured, as long as they avoided getting trapped in a stampede of
people and had the stamina to wait in massive queues. Reportedly
Checkers served over a million customers and sold enough Coca-Cola to
fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.[1]
Yet consumerism was not only at its peak within shopping malls, as
online shopping records reached heights this Black Friday. For example,
Raru, an online shopping site, was able to surpass an average day’s
turnover by 1100% within a mere 14 minutes.[2]

There have been mixed reactions to South Africa’s appropriation of
this American craze, which began in the early 1930s in the US but was
only initiated in South Africa in 2014 by Checkers. Social media was
alight this Black Friday, with posts ranging from criticism of Black
Friday’s exploitation of poorer people – in that it encourages them to
spend money excessively and recklessly – to expressions of gratitude and
happiness by people who were able to buy necessary and luxury items for
cheap, which they may not have otherwise been able to afford. Either
way, Black Friday leads one to question the unchecked consumerism that
it seems to signify and promote.

I was saddened, though not altogether shocked, to learn that the
first product sold out at grocery stores was alcohol. According to a
SABC report, one shopper stated, “It looks like the purpose of Black
Friday was for the sale of alcohol. Alcohol is [cheaper] today than ever
before.”[3]

On 1 December Premier Helen Zille wrote the following Twitter post:
“39% of expenditure on Black Friday was on alcohol, and 29% on food. I
do not think we understand the extent of our alcohol abuse crisis”.[4]
She has received significant backlash for this statement, with many
people stating tongue-in-cheek that if land and housing were on sale on
Black Friday then there would not have been as great a need to purchase
alcohol. Furthermore, many social media users expressed the sentiment
that some people need alcohol as a means of survival or escapism – one
tweet reads, “alcohol is cheaper than food. Alcohol gives you an escape
from reality”.[5]

While it is important to acknowledge these very real and complex
issues around the purchase and consumption of liquor, it is crucial to
note the significant harms that are related to alcohol abuse (i.e.
excessive binge drinking, as opposed to moderate and social drinking) on
individuals and society as a whole.

Intoxication leads to loss of control and lack of capacity. This
inhibition could result in increased risks of reckless driving, criminal
offence perpetration and victimisation, violence, and unsafe sex.
Dangerous drinking leads to dangerous societies.

The relationship between alcohol abuse and the perpetration of
gender-based violence (GBV) is of particular concern. For example, women
with male partners who “come home drunk frequently” are 4 to 7 times
more likely to suffer violence;[6] intimate-partner violence (IPV) perpetrators are 5 times more likely than non-perpetrators to consume alcohol;[7]
 men with alcohol problems are generally more likely to commit IPV;[8] and male-to-female aggression is 11 times more likely to occur on days when perpetrators were drinking alcohol.[9]

Additionally, there are proven links between alcohol abuse and the
transmission of HIV: compared with non-drinkers, non-problem drinkers
had 1.6 fold higher HIV prevalence, while problem drinkers had a 2.0
fold higher prevalence.[10] It is therefore clear that excessive alcohol consumption is a serious public health issue.

Studies have shown that regions with lower alcohol use have lower HIV
rates and that lessening alcohol use can reduce the incidence of GBV.
Alcohol abuse prevention mechanisms are therefore crucial, especially in
South Africa, which has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in
the world. According to WHO, pure alcohol consumption (per litre) in
South Africa is at 11.5, which pushes South Africa up to the third
biggest drinking nation in Africa, and the 19th biggest drinking nation
in the world.[11] Furthermore, research shows that more than a quarter of the drinking population in South Africa are considered binge drinkers.[12]

In recognition of this, Parliament put forward a National Liquor Policy,[13]
which contains policy recommendations intended to amend the current
Liquor Act 59 of 2003. Most of these recommendations have informed and
been included into the new draft Liquor Amendment Bill, 2016. Namely,
restrictions on alcohol advertising; the imposition of a radius
restriction on places distributing and selling alcohol; and the increase
of the minimum drinking age from 18 to 21. There is, however, a notable
exception: the Bill does not contain a provision relating to an
increase in the price of alcohol.

This is particularly perplexing considering the following recommendation in the National Liquor Policy:

“Research shows that pricing policies can be used to reduce underage
drinking, to halt progression towards drinking large volumes of alcohol
and or episodes of heavy drinking and to influence consumers’
preferences. Increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is therefore
one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol
(WHO: 2010)…There might be scope to further increase the excise duties
on alcohol beverages.”

Additionally, the draft Western Cape Alcohol-Related Harms Reduction Policy Green Paper (2016)[14]
makes the following recommendation: “Lobby national government to
increase the price of alcohol through increasing excise tax and/or
introducing minimum unit pricing.”

If Black Friday is anything to go by, when the price goes down the
purchasing of alcohol clearly goes up. Numerous studies have confirmed
this inverse relationship, finding that an increase in
alcoholic-beverage taxes could be a highly effective option for reducing
excessive alcohol consumption and its consequences.[15]
According to WHO, research in the USA shows that increasing the price
of alcohol by 1% will decrease the probability of IPV by 5%.[16]

Thus not only would a policy of increased alcohol taxation signify
government’s condemnation of the harms associated with excessive alcohol
consumption, but it might also deter persons from buying alcohol
excessively or at least decrease the amount of alcohol that they
purchase. Therefore it is surprising that government has not included
this intervention – arguably one of the most effective public policies
on excessive alcohol consumption[17] – in the Bill, where the stated aim is to reduce the harms of excessive alcohol drinking.

It might be surmised that this omission reflects government’s fear of
strong pushback from the powerful alcohol industry, as we have seen
with the contestation on the sugar tax. Hopefully this will be addressed
in further public consultations on the Bill.

 

In the meantime, though, we should celebrate the existing provisions
in the Bill that serve to restrict excessive alcohol consumption as a
public health triumph, insofar as they have an impact on gender-based
violence and HIV.