Alcohol abuse considered one of the greatest challenges facing young people worldwide and in this country. Picture: Karen Sandison

Sue Segar

Political Bureau

LEGISLATION to curb the advertising and marketing of alcohol is set to be submitted to the cabinet for consideration before the end of the year.

And, in a government bid to address the increasing “social ill” of alcohol abuse, particularly among the youth, a range of bills will be tabled before the cabinet before the end of the year, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said yesterday.

They would deal with matters such as raising the purchasing age for alcohol from 18 to 21, zero tolerance of drunk driving as well as managing the location and licensing of shebeens.

Briefing journalists at Parliament, Dlamini said the legislation would be piloted by the Department of Health.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has voiced deep concern about the impact of alcohol on the nation’s health and committed to tackling the problem.

Motsoaledi also said earlier this year that the UN had declared non-communicable diseases such as substance abuse a “developmental problem” which, if not dealt with urgently, could leave developing countries unable to carry their health-care burdens.

Dlamini said the government’s efforts at building vibrant communities were being undermined by the “persistent social ills” of alcohol and substance abuse.

“We acknowledge that substance and alcohol abuse are among the ever-increasing challenges facing the youth globally and in South Africa,” Dlamini said.

“The transition from adolescence to young adulthood is a crucial period in which experiments with alcohol and illicit drugs usage usually takes place.

“Drugs may have a strong appeal to young people.”

She said alcohol was the most common primary drug of choice across the country and carried risks including accidents, injuries, teenage pregnancies and unprotected sexual behaviour, which led to HIV transmission.

In a reference to the pending legislation on raising the purchasing age of alcohol and on the geographic spread and licensing of shebeens, Deputy Social Development Minister Bongi Maria Ntuli said the government would work with the police, the Education Department and the Department of Trade and Industry in ensuring that the youth “do not become alcoholics before they are even 20”.

“When a child is 18 years old, he is still young … and still doing matric. But at the age of 21 … he or she can choose what is right and what is wrong.

“We need to enforce the law.

“Shebeens that are closer to schools will be closed, unlicensed shebeens will also be closed and people will be arrested. We won’t work alone.”

Ntuli referred to an advertisement that was carried in newspapers in which a tavern in Soweto advertised to tertiary institutions that it was selling liquor at a discount to students.

“That alone tells a story that we are dealing with a lost generation,” she said.

Dlamini said she had consulted the advertising industry and had “stated categorically” that the priority was the citizens of SA.

On potential job losses in the industry, she said: “Do we want to sacrifice our people because some people must have jobs? We have to do what is best for South Africa.”

Health Department spokesman Fidel Hadebe would not be drawn on whether the legislation would impose a total ban, but stressed it still had to go through the parliamentary processes.

“In the same way we engaged with the tobacco industry before we introduced the legislation, we will engage with everybody.”

Hadebe said the Health Department was concerned about the scale of alcohol abuse. Curbing advertising was just one aspect of dealing with alcohol abuse.

Asked for comment, Jon Cherry, co-owner of Cherryflava – a Cape Town-based trend and news site for the advertising industry, welcomed the development.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. If you look at the sheer volume of alcohol advertising on the SABC and on, it is ridiculous. We are living in a society where alcohol and the way it is portrayed in adverts has become acceptable.

“If we were to curb this advertising, even for a short time, it would have an impact on the underlying psyche of people.

“We are growing up in an age where alcohol abuse is seen as OK.”