The beer sector has sustained a great deal of damage following the blanket bans on alcohol, which resulted in over 100 days of restricted trading.
As we emerge from the near collapse of our industry, we must focus our efforts on promoting the responsible and moderate consumption of alcohol, to ensure that we are not faced with blanket bans in the future.
The alcohol bans certainly had a truly dire impact on the beer industry, with an estimated 7,400 jobs lost, R14.2 billion in lost sales revenue and more than a R7.8 billion loss in taxes and excise duties. The bans subsequently forced South African Breweries and HeinekenSA to reconsider and halt plans worth billions in investment, which would have created hundreds of jobs.
As the CEO of the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA), I feel bound to protect the livelihoods in our beer chain and promote the industry in a responsible manner. And, while I am the first to recognise the impact that the abuse of alcohol can have, I believe it important that we diagnose this problem correctly.
The essence of the problem we face is that a minority of South Africans binge drink. In doing so, they regularly pose a danger to themselves and those around them. If we are to alleviate the harm that excessive drinking causes, we need interventions which specifically target excessive drinking. Demonising an entire industry or restricting the freedoms of those that enjoy a drink in a responsible manner will not result in the behavioural change we need to see from those who do drink excessively.
We have seen from previous bans that people who drink alcohol to excess will find a way to do so regardless of restrictions. Prohibition only enables the illicit alcohol market, which currently accounts for 15% of all alcohol sales by volume, resulting in a fiscal loss of R6.4 billion per annum. We certainly have an obligation to, and need to, fight alcohol abuse, but we need to do so in a way that tackles the problem. And we need to think through how the unintended consequences of some policies may exacerbate rath- er than remedy the problem.
We need to learn the right lessons from the previous bans on alcohol. This means acknowledging the impact of prohibition on our economy, and finding ways to curb excessive drinking that causes social harm.
One important way of doing this is to inculcate a culture of moderate drinking and that influences people to make better choices. The beer industry is already working with Government and other social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) to address the underlying societal issues linked to alcohol abuse and to ensure that a 4th ban is avoided.
BASA promotes moderate drinking with beers low in alcohol content by volume (ABV). Our members also offer a range of lower alcohol and no alcohol products to consumers.
We must fight against alcohol abuse - but we must also recognise that excessive drinking and the harm it causes will not be stopped by prohibiting or limiting the trade of alcohol. It is critical that government and industry move forward as partners to devise sustainable solutions to encourage citizens to responsibly exercise their choices and consume alcohol safely and in moderation.
Article published courtesy of https://beersa.org