Alcohol.. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Alcohol.. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

WILL raising the legal drinking age in SA to 21 help curb alcohol abuse?

It’s a question being fiercely debated as the nation weighs-in on government’s proposal to raise the legal minimum drinking age‚ curb liquor advertising and make people who sell it to intoxicated customers liable for civil damages if the person commits an offence.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies opened the proposals to public scrutiny and comment on Monday for 45 days‚ saying drastic measures were needed to stop alcohol abuse.

The 21-year-olds rule will never be policed‚ parents should take more responsibility for children’s behaviour‚ it’s a great idea‚ teens will find creative way to get their hands on booze — these are just a fraction of the views that have since aired on radio and social media.

Justice4All? asked on Twitter‚ "How does raising drinking age to 21 stop boozing in this country? How will that even be policed since age 18 limit couldn’t be policed?"

Sure Kamhunga said‚ "Raising drinking age from 18 to 21‚ assumes alcohol abuse in SA is worst within that age group. My layman thinking says nope."

Macash suggested hiking the legal age even further: "Actually this Bill should raise drinking age to 25.#ForBetterSA"

Ntapi Ramatapa Motau said age is not the problem. "@RelebogileM Hi‚ the problem is not drinking age‚ it’s parenting‚ policing‚ alcohol dealers‚ the problem is leadership

SA ranks among the worst offenders when it comes to the quantity of alcohol consumed as a nation. TMG Digital reported in May that pure alcohol consumption in SA was ranked at 11.5 litre per capita per year — nearly double the average of six litres consumed on the African continent — in 2015‚ according to the World Health Organisation.

INFOGRAPHIC: Does South Africa drink more than other African countries?

Morris Smithers‚ national coordinator for the South African chapter of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance‚ favours more stringent curbs on alcohol advertising‚ in addition to the minimum age.

"We think it’s a very‚ very good move but I think we should say that’s it’s not going to be the magic wand that’s going to solve the problem‚" he told CapeTalk (www.capetalk.co.za) radio on Tuesday.

"The one problem of course … we’ve got to have better enforcement by the liquor authorities as well as the police. But we also have to have other measures such as educating people around the issues of alcohol."

The alliance is a collaborative initiative between seven southern African countries that aims to accelerate alcohol policy development in the region.

"It’s very difficult to stop kids drinking at an early age but one has to ask the question why. Why are kids tempted to start drinking at an early age? What is it that … compels them to think that drinking is something that they automatically and necessarily have to do‚ just because they are approaching the age of 18 or the age of 21‚" he asked.

Less advertising and peer pressure‚ he believed‚ would reduce the consumption of liquor.

"Of the 30 countries in the world that have the greatest alcohol problems‚ only one of them is a country where alcohol is sold only by the age of 21‚" he said. "All the rest are where alcohol is sold at the age of 18 or less. And there are countries where it is sold at the age of less‚ 16‚ sometimes."

New Zealand has legislation that allows people under the age of 21 who are accompanied by an adult or guardian to consume alcohol‚ he said.

TMG Digital

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