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ZOLEKA LISA |It will take integrated action to stop underage drinking

Role of beer sector is to eradicate underage drinking
Role of beer sector is to eradicate underage drinking

Collaboration is critical in driving responsible consumption of alcohol in SA

At the 7th Global Alcohol Policy Conference held in Cape Town last week, a network of non-governmental organisations and public health workers came together with a goal to reduce alcohol-related harm worldwide by promoting science-based policies independent of commercial interests.

The SA Breweries (SAB) believes the role of the beer sector is to drive responsible alcohol consumption and do everything possible to eradicate underage drinking. With so much at stake, it is an issue that cannot be ignored, and we are committed to working with a range of stakeholders to address this problem.

In the spirit of being a part of the solution, in 2021 SAB developed an outcomes-based responsible consumption platform, with focused interventions aimed at encouraging South Africans to make better decisions when it comes to alcohol consumption. In designing the initiative, SAB consulted government stakeholders, academics, civil society and subject matter experts. The platform is focused on making a tangible contribution to the reduction of harmful use of alcohol globally.

We believe that it’s not enough to just talk the talk, but we must ensure that we invest in programmes that see tangible and impactful outcomes.

One of the programme’s pillars focuses on supporting entrepreneurs and protecting women in communities to help overcome challenges brought on by unemployment and social structures that drive alcohol abuse. Our deliberate efforts in this pillar have led to 11,346 entrepreneurs being supported, and through the Carling Black Label #NoExcuse programme SAB was able to educate 15,661 men in behavioural change programmes..

Another of the pillars is to assist in improving road safety by cultivating a zero-tolerance approach to drinking among drivers and reduce the incidences of drinking and driving. Through this intervention, we have been able to support over 4,200 arrests through our alcohol evidence centres that are run in collaboration with law enforcement agencies across the (how many?) African countries.

To promote responsible trading practices, SAB has ensured that 32,402 retailers comply with a responsible trading programme (RTP). Through the RTP we are able to assess taverns against responsible trading principles and certifying retailers that are compliant with the regulations and provide a safe environment for consumers and surrounding communities.

Another initiative that SAB is driving, is that of ID verification to purchase alcohol. Currently, the law in SA only requires retailers to ask for an ID if they suspect that the customer might be underage. However, we believe that this is not sufficient. We are calling for the government to implement a mandatory age verification mechanism for the sale of alcohol. It should be a legal requirement for retailers, both on-premise and off-premise establishments, to ask for age verification before alcohol is sold.

Implementing such a system is not a new phenomenon, and it has already been successfully adopted in countries like the US. There are best practices that we can learn from this case study. One such practice is the use of age verification technology. Advanced technologies such as scanning government-issued IDs or using mobile apps with barcode scanning capabilities can ensure accurate and efficient age verification. For example, many liquor stores, bars, convenience and grocery stores in the US use age verification scanners that can quickly and accurately scan the barcode or magnetic strip on a driver’s licence or ID card, reducing the risk of human error.

Integration with point of sale systems is another way in which age verification can be done. In the US, for instance, some companies integrate their ID verification system with its POS system. When a customer scans a product that requires age verification, the staff has to confirm that they are of legal drinking age to proceed with the transaction, ensuring consistent age verification.

In addition to ID verification, it is important to properly train staff on spotting potential underage individuals, checking identification, identifying counterfeit IDs, taking necessary actions, and consistently enforcing this policy at all sites.

Ultimately, responsibility lies with all stakeholders in the alcohol industry. The government, retailers and alcohol companies like SAB need to collaborate to ensure that age verification becomes an integral part of the sale of alcohol. However, we draw inspiration from other countries that have successfully maintained a thriving industry while promoting responsible consumption.

By implementing and enforcing an ID verification system, we can make a significant impact in preventing underage drinking for the sake of the younger generation and the future of our society.

Lisa is SAB vice president: corporate affairs

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