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Interventions to combat underage drinking are an important pillar of Aware.org’s broader mandate to reduce the harmful consumption of alcohol. Picture: SUPPLIED/AWARE.ORG
Interventions to combat underage drinking are an important pillar of Aware.org’s broader mandate to reduce the harmful consumption of alcohol. Picture: SUPPLIED/AWARE.ORG

Why has the alcohol industry suddenly become so interested in talking about alcohol harm reduction? Is this a way to try to 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 R450m 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. 

Aware.org is intensifying its campaign during the pandemic in response to the call for action from the government. This is a firm commitment from the industry and the organisation, which has always adopted a shared, collective approach to affect change. 

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

Aware.org believes harm reduction should always be front and centre of both trading and consumer behaviour, not just during the pandemic.

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

The government is clearly saying it’s up to us to act responsibly so we can all play a part in preventing further infections and, in so doing, save lives — and Aware.org fully agrees.

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

Similarly, with consumers, Aware.org wants 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.

Young drinkers present a particular challenge. Interventions to combat underage drinking are an important pillar of Aware.org’s broader mandate to reduce the harmful consumption of alcohol.

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

Alcohol, its advertising, its integration into all facets of communication, and its consumption have become normalised, which has made us desensitised to its impact.

To address the problem and associated risks of underage drinking, adults, parents and caregivers need to start having the right conversations, and earlier. They also need to acknowledge the passive role they may play in encouraging and “approving of” underage drinking.

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

The industry is clear and unambiguous — say no to underage drinking!

The industry and its extended value chain have a 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 the newly adopted underage ID verification intervention.

A national always-on social norms campaign, including tool kits and educational resources, has been developed for adoption by the industry. This includes retail, both in-store and online, extending to the entire alcohol value chain to amplify the visible, voluntary commitment to address the compliance required in terms of underage drinking.

The message is clear: We should share the good times — but not the virus.

And here we all have a role to play: the 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.

Visit www.aware.org.za for more information.

This article was paid for by Aware.org

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