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It could soon be illegal to be a boozer before you're 21 - here's what you need to know

Extending the drinking age is one of the measures being considered to curb alcohol abuse in SA. Stock photo.
Extending the drinking age is one of the measures being considered to curb alcohol abuse in SA. Stock photo.
Image: 123rf/Jakub Godja

The legal drinking age could be changed from 18 to 21.

This comes after the Liquor Amendment Bill, first made public in 2016, is reportedly being reconsidered by cabinet as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Extending the drinking age in SA is one of the measures being considered to curb alcohol abuse in the country. 

Here is what you need to know:

Restrictions on sales and advertising on the cards 

The draft Liquor Amendment Bill proposes several changes, includes the introduction of a 500m radius limitation of trade around educational and religious institutions.

Banning alcohol advertising on billboards placed less than 100m away from junctions, street corners and traffic circles and introducing a new liability clause for alcohol traders are also on the list.

According to Business Insider, cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is in favour of the proposals.

“All of these I consider to be useful medium- to long-term tools to reduce SA’s high rate of alcohol consumption to be considered by the legislature in due course,” she said.

Changes could be permanent 

On Monday, the director of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa), Maurice Smithers, said some of the changes were being considered on a permanent basis by policymakers.

Speaking on CapeTalk, Smithers said the proposals will fundamentally change how alcohol is seen and consumed in the country.

He said extending the drinking age to 21 would be beneficial to promote moderate and safe drinking.

“The human brain continues to develop up to age 22. It makes sense to delay drinking as long as possible,” said Smithers.

“A lot of children hit university at 18 and are exposed to alcohol and it has quite a damaging effect on them and their progress through university.” 

Underage binge-drinking 

According to Saapa, only 31% of people in SA aged 15 and above drink alcohol.

“The majority of them drink heavily and in a way that is harmful to themselves and others.

“The alcohol industry depends on this binge-drinking to make substantial profits, hence their resistance to the current ban and to alcohol regulation in general,” said the group.

Ramaphosa’s take

Speaking to the Sunday Times last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa said extending the drinking age was being considering by the government to reduce alcohol-related trauma admissions in hospitals and to curb the “ugly” abuse of booze.

Ramaphosa said the government plans to intensify massive campaigns against the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

“The legislative part is something we need to look at very closely to see how do we begin to reduce the abuse of alcohol,” he said.

“It could revolve around things like age limit. We need to raise the age limit. Or do we need to look at trading hours for the purchase of alcohol? Do we need to look at things like taxation?”

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