Study says Sunday alcohol sales ban would work if there’s a crackdown on illegal trade

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Gauteng is proposing a ban on Sunday alcohol sales to reduce the harm done by alcohol abuse. A major study backs the government claim that this would work, but only if action is taken to crack down on illegal sales.

A national population-based survey conducted in 2008 examined the extent of and damage done by alcohol abuse in South Africa and published in the African Journal of Psychiatry in 2011. A copy was sent to Africa Check. Key points follow below this report. 16/03/13.

Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province, today tabled draft legislation in the provincial parliament introducing a ban on the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

The intention of the ban is to restrict the hours during which alcohol is available in order to reduce the harm done by alcohol abuse.

While acknowledging the problems that alcohol abuse can cause, the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) does not support the move.

In its submission on the regulations last month, the ARA declared that banning alcohol sales in Gauteng on Sundays won’t reduce the actual consumption of alcohol. Rather, it will simply mean that people who already sell liquor illegally will do more trade.

“There is absolutely no doubt that a Sunday prohibition will increase … an illegal activity while having a severe negative economic impact on the legal trade both in terms of turnover and employment,” the ARA said.

Instead of such a prohibition, the ARA proposed targeted and sustained education especially for young people as more effective.

What’s the problem?

The Sunday sales ban is the most eye-catching of several measures in the Gauteng bill aimed at curbing alcohol abuse — acknowledged as a major problem in the country.

In a 2011 policy paper, Gauteng government recognised the positive impact of the drinks industry has on the province’s economy by “amongst other things creating employment and generating revenue.”

However, it said, the harm caused by alcohol consumption also has significant economic and social costs.

Examples it listed include:

  • A higher rate of traffic accidents
  • Problems in the workplace
  • Family and domestic problems
  • High levels of violence

And while it is individuals who drink, society has to pick up the tab for these problems through costly public health measures, the impact of violence to women and children and among men, the loss of economic activity, and the costs of policing alcohol related crime, the policy paper said.

So would a Sunday sales ban work?

Given the fact that thousands of illicit traders are already ignoring the law on drink sales , add in the situation that the ban is being introduced in just one province, not its neighbours, and the fact that determined drinkers could simply load up on Fridays and Saturdays ahead of Sunday, and it is understandable that many are sceptical about how effective such a ban might be.

As ARA representative Adrian Botha put it to Africa Check: “In the South African situation where there is a huge illegal trade which is totally unaffected by days or hours of sale, a Sunday ban would be particularly pointless.”

And this is not just because the conditions are particular to Gauteng, he added.

“I have not come across any research able to withstand scientific scrutiny that unequivocally links days of sale with alcohol misuse and abuse,” he told Africa Check.

Lancet review found restricting hours has results

In fact, a review of policy initiatives to limit alcohol abuse in society, published in the leading medical journal The Lancet in 2009, found restrictions on the hours or days of sale can work.

In the summary of the report, the authors state: “A reduction of the hours or days of sale of alcoholic beverages leads to fewer alcohol-related problems, including homicides and assaults.”

“Systematic reviews and meta-analyses show that policies regulating the environment in which alcohol is marketed (particularly its price and availability) are effective in reducing alcohol-related harm,” the authors say.

“School-based education does not reduce alcohol-related harm, although public information and education-type programmes have a role in providing information and in increasing attention and acceptance of alcohol on political and public agendas,” they add, suggesting the school-based educational programme proposed by the ARA would not work.

Would the illicit market undermine the ban?

However, in one vital area, the Lancet study does back an argument put by the ARA.

“Strict restrictions on availability can create an opportunity for an illicit market” the authors note. “Where a large illicit market exists, licence enforced restrictions can increase the competitiveness of the alternative market, which needs to be considered during policy making,” the Lancet study authors say.

And in its 2011 policy paper, theGautengdepartment of economic development admitted that: “The liquor inspectorate does not have sufficient resources to effectively perform its functions in terms of the Gauteng Liquor Act.”

It also said the overlap in responsibility for policing the issue between police and the liquor inspectorate hampers the work of the inspectorate.

Conclusion – A ban on Sunday sales would work but only if accompanied by a squeeze on illegal traders

While there are many aspects of this issue that the study published in the Lancet does not tackle – such as the economic impact of such bans on restaurants or other entertainment centres – it is certainly thorough, reviewing dozens of case-studies from around the world.

Whatever your view on the proposed ban on Sunday alcohol sales, the evidence appears to be that, if the illicit market that such bans can produce is controlled, they can reduce alcohol abuse.

But as the ARA points out, the illicit sale of alcohol in Gauteng is widespread. And both the Lancet study and Gauteng policy paper, suggest it will undermine the ban unless action is taken to crack down on illegal sales.

Edited by Peter Cunliffe-Jones

A national population-based survey conducted in 2008 in South Africa found binge drinking as well as hazardous drinking had increased since 2005. The survey formed part of the HIV, behaviour and communication survey and was published in the African Journal of Psychiatry in 2011.

While alcohol is globally estimated to account for around 4 percent of deaths and disability, the study notes that in South Africa in 2000 this was around 7 percent of deaths and disabilities.

Leading effects of alcohol abuse were health problems, interpersonal violence and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Looking at drinking patterns, the study goes on to say: “In much of the developing world, the predominant pattern is of infrequent heavy drinking, particularly by men. Specifically, this is determined by some of the indicators used in determining drinking pattern: number of heavy drinking occasions; high usual quantity of alcohol consumed; drinking in public places; and drinking at community festivals.”

The authors note one of the limits of the study was it used self-reporting and there is a likelihood this underestimates the problem especially among women interviewed in households. Africa Check 16/03/13.

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Comment on this report

Comments 4
  1. By Andrew Nieuwmeyer

    You have avoided the question of why Sunday.
    If we are going to ban sales on any day then we must chose a day that will be most effective for social good.
    Is there a study that indicates that banning liquor sales on Sunday is more effective than any other day?
    Surely banning sales on Friday will be most effective. Friday is payday for weekly paid workers and the first shopping day after monthly payday. Friday is also precursor day to the weekend. Banning sales on Friday will encourage people to spend their pay on groceries before buying liquor the next day on Saturday.
    Is there a study that says banning alcohol sales on Sunday is better than banning sales on payday Friday?
    It seems to me that Sunday has been chosen for purely for religious reasons, therefore it could be considered a religious law and not really a law for social good.

    Reply Report comment
  2. By Africa Check

    It’s an interesting question Andrew.

    Unfortunately, we are not aware of research into which day is the most effective, if you are planning to ban alcohol sales in order to reduce abuse.

    The Lancet study we quote, which is a ‘meta-study’ or review of dozens of other studies, simply says that reducing the number of hours or days on which alcohol is available is: “Effective—reviews noted consistent evidence that increases in days and hours of sale increase consumption and harm, and that reductions in days and hours of sale reduce consumption and harm.”

    It does not go into the issue of which day or why these days are chosen, though certainly in a number of countries this is done on Sundays for religious reasons, as you suggest might be the case here.

    As we say in the report, the Lancet study does review the evidence found internationally for the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of a large number of measures for tackling alcohol abuse in countries around the world.

    Reply Report comment
  3. By zaid khumalo

    Research evidence point to very high levels of alcohol abuse and alcohol-induced crime and violence among the poor. The majority of the country’s poor commnunities are found in the rural areas, farms and more especially in the townships as well as in the informal housing settlements.

    By begining with first the suggested Sunday ban on alchol and gradually phase in stages a total ban on the drinking of alcohol, the country could gain tremendous strides in reducing the high levels of crime and violence in our societty.

    With an alcohol free society, it will then be much easier to grow and develop the high shortage of human and industrial infrustructures that is almost non-existant in our country.

    We have great potential for growth in just about every aspect of development and this is where the wasted man-power by many able-bodied men and women of age groups who spend hours on end just drinking alcohol could be brought to good use – engage them to utilise their lives poistively!

    In fact, instead of wasting money on alcohol, people who drink should instead visit countries where alcohol is forbidden and watch how ordinary people spend their time and money with their families.

    But in the end, the authorities should not bulk down under the pressure of those who ara aginst the Sunday. After the end results of a healthy, normal society in an future alcohol-free South Africa is not for them – many of them will be long dead and buried when our grand-children will stand-up and applaud the ban.

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  4. By Tord Steiro

    I can think of only one particular reason for why Sunday should be chosen for such a ban: it’s the last day of the weekend. Meaning that weekend-bingers would have some time to recover before the work week starts on Monday. Which would gave economy wide productivity effects. Assuming that weekend-binging is a common habit among drinkers.

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