The Way Forward for the Liquor Act
Today is International Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Day, the day to recognise that many children are being born into the world without any hope of leading a normal life because their mothers drank during pregnancy.
FAS is but one of many devastating effects that substance abuse has on our society.
Just yesterday, SAPS released their annual crime statistics. Nationally, the drug-related crime ratio has risen by 10.2%. The Western Cape has been particularly hard hit by this type of crime. Drug-related crimes in the Western Cape have increased from 60 409 reported crimes in 2009/2010 to 70 588 reported crimes in 2010/2011. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs has also increased nationally by 4.5% and the number of cases in the Western Cape by 10.2%. Increased policing and roadblocks on provincial roads must however be taken into account as more arrests are being made.
- Half of patients who die in transport-related incidents have an elevated blood alcohol content.
- Of these cases, 90% had blood alcohol levels above 0.05 g/100 ml.
- 44% of all deaths are homicides. Half of these are alcohol related.
- Of this half, 89% had blood alcohol levels above 0.05 g/100 ml.
- 43% of firearm-related deaths were alcohol related.
- 77% of all deaths caused by sharp objects involved positive alcohol levels.
- 54% of assaults with a blunt instrument, 26% of strangulations and 45% of burns involved positive alcohol levels.
These statistics should alarm us all.
The Western Cape also has high instances of violent crime and 80% of these are fuelled by alcohol and drugs. It is estimated that half of violent deaths are alcohol related. In an Elsie's River Community Centre poll, 47% of trauma cases were linked to alcohol use. Of these, the majority of suspected offenders were men between the ages of 18 and 35. Approximately one in three teenagers abuse alcohol and drugs.
Western Cape citizens have proved that they are unwilling to accept responsibility for their safety and for the safety of others, as they continue to binge drink, resort to alcohol-fuelled violence and drive whilst under the influence.
While our Safely Home intervention and the Name and Shame campaign have steadily reduced the number of road deaths in the province by 18% each year since 2008, even one life lost because of alcohol is one too many. Further strong, consistent and coordinated action is necessary to tackle the causes of these crimes.
The World Health Organization recommends several steps in its Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol. Amongst these are:
- A minimum legal age to buy alcohol.
- Restrictions on hours and days of retail sales.
- Restrictions on the density of sales outlets.
- Sobriety checks.
- Lowered limits for blood alcohol concentration.
- Suspension of licences for driving under the influence.
- Reducing liquor advertising.
Whilst some of these recommendations fall outside of provincial government's mandate, others do not.
A key weapon in our arsenal against alcohol abuse and the damage that it inflicts upon our society is the Western Cape Liquor Act (WCLA)(2008).
It is viewed as the toughest liquor legislation in South Africa. It seeks to reduce drinking establishments in residential areas, clamp down on the supply of alcohol to illegal liquor outlets and restrict hours of liquor trade. This is to ensure that we create safer drinking environments.
The implementation plan for the Liquor Act, which was approved by Cabinet last week, sets out key action steps as contained in the WCLA Implementation Plan.
Between now and January, we will finalise the processes required to implement the Act and the regulations.
In February and March, we will advertise for and appoint the board of the new Liquor Authority.
On the first of April 2012, the Liquor Authority will officially take over from the Liquor Board and begin to implement the remaining sections of the Act. All liquor licences will begin to be processed according to the new Act, and enforcement against liquor traders and suppliers who flout its regulations will begin.
To ease the transition to the new Liquor Authority, we are pleased today to announce the introduction of a dedicated Liquor Advice hotline. The hotline staff are available every day of the week to answer queries related to the various types of licences, the cost of licences, applying for licences and renewal notices, objections and complaints about licences premises. Complaints that they cannot resolve will be referred to the department for a response.
The call centre number is: 0860 555 134.
We have also ramped up the operations of the current Liquor Board by hiring additional inspectors and by streamlining the review of applications.
The implementation of the Liquor Act will greatly reduce the opportunity for crime as well as the motivation for crime to occur. We are therefore adamant that it be implemented as soon as possible so that we may begin to clamp down on irresponsible drinkers and irresponsible traders.