Alcohol industry players in South Africa have pledged to invest upwards of R150 million in harm-reduction programmes over the next year.

The industry will focus on upscaling existing programmes while also finding new, innovative measures to deal with key areas of concern including drunk driving, abuse, and under age drinking, according to industry spokesperson, and corporate relations director at Diageo, Sibani Mngadi.

Mngadi called on traders and consumers to abide by all new lockdown rules and to make sure that their drinking occasions do not contribute to the spread of infections and unnecessary burden on the health system.

“We have a collective responsibility to protect our livelihoods as various players in the alcohol value chain. Consumers equally have a responsibility to behave appropriately and not expose themselves and others to unnecessary harm and potential infections.”

Mngadi outlined some of the key measures that the industry is looking to introduce.

Drinking & driving/walking
Mngadi said that the industry will support legislative and enforcement measures to reduce drinking and driving/walking by capacitating law enforcement with resources to effectively enforce it, and by partnering with retailers regarding interventions in high-risk areas.

“Alcohol evidence centres that will have the capacity to process breath alcohol testing and immediately make available results for prosecution purposes is one of the measures to be put in place.

“In addition, the industry, working with retail partners particularly taverns will also introduce a patrol/buddy system to walk home intoxicated customers in order to curb drinking and walking incidents,” he said.

Underage drinking
The industry is in discussion with the retail sector to explore the implementation of an ID verification system in all retail outlets (on-and off consumption), as well as the extension of the underage drinking education programme, Mngadi said.

“This programme was developed for engagement in school environments using digital platforms so that information can be disseminated to community- based youth organisations.”

Gender-based violence & femicide
Mngadi said that the industry is committed to partnering with the government and civil society in addressing the issue of gender-based violence and femicide.

“One of the industry members, SAB, has launched a Gender-Based Violence WhatsApp helpline.

“This is a safe reporting platform for anyone who is a victim of GBV, providing for referral to a counselling support service.”

Mngadi said that dialogues with tavern owners are also currently underway to explore the best measures and the role that outlet owners can play in an effort to curb gender-based violence.

“This process will be used to facilitate  dialogue with government on how the industry can provide support with the implementation of the national strategic plan on gender-based violence and femicide,” he said.

Binge drinking
The industry will ramp up its consumer education campaigns on binge drinking, which will include responsible messaging as well as defining drinking guidelines to influence behaviour.

“Various brands have introduced reduced alcohol products and 0% alcohol products to encourage responsible drinking habits,” Mngadi said.

Stricter tests
Prior to South Africa moving to lockdown level 2, professor Charles Parry of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) said that larger container sizes are linked to heavy drinking. He proposed a limit on the sale of beer and ciders to 500 ml bottles, while wine and spirits should be limited to 750 ml.

Parry said that government could  impose restrictions on the sale of single units as opposed to multiple cases of liquor which would prevent people from buying in bulk and then reselling. He said that government could look at further restrictions around the transportation of alcohol in bulk quantities.

He said that the government could also further restrict rules around drunk driving, with suggestions of a new limit of .02 per 100 ml of blood. Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has already proposed new drunk driving rules for South Africa, but no implementation date has been set.

The new proposal will see a total prohibition around the use and consumption of alcohol by all motor vehicle operators on South African public roads.

Aligning with the above point, Parry said that the SAPS could also introduce more stringent tests for alcohol levels after vehicle accidents.

Drunk driving data
Research conducted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and Unisa, showed that alcohol was involved in more than one in every four (27.1%) fatal car accidents between 2016 and 2018, at a cost of R18.2 billion.

“We estimate alcohol to be implicated in at least 27.1% of all fatal crashes involving driver error of any type,” the researchers said.

They found more than 13,074 of the 33,659 fatal crashes during this period had “known driver risk factors”. This was almost four in every 10 (38.8%) of the total fatal crashes. The alcohol-related crashes fall under in this group.

Researchers only included fatal crashes where the driver tested positive for alcohol, and the RTMC and the police determined alcohol was the main contributor to the crash.

The data showed that pedestrians are three times as likely to die in crashes where the driver was intoxicated.