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Calls for alcohol minimum unit price in SA

With one of the world’s highest alcohol consumption levels, South Africa rivals countries around the world known for their drinking. This prompted the Western Cape Government into commissioning research into new ways to curb binge drinking.

The study, conducted by the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), looked at various price-based interventions to reduce abusive drinking in the province and country.

Using data from the National Income Dynamics study, a nationally representative sample of 8,000 households was examined. Alcohol users were categorised into low dose, binge and heavy use. Participants were asked questions about regularity of alcohol use, quantity consumed typically and the amount of money spent on alcohol every month.

Through this data, researchers found the price paid for a unit of alcohol by each category of alcohol user, as follows, showing that people with heavy alcohol consumption supply themselves with cheap alcohol:

  • Low dose alcohol consumers spent R 10.90 (adjusted for inflation) for a standard unit of alcohol
  • Binge alcohol users spent R 7.62 per unit of alcohol
  • Heavy users spent R 1.48 per unit of alcohol consumed

Some of the methods researched included increasing excise taxes or introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol. The study showed that if the cost of alcohol increased like it has in other countries, the consumption decreases.

According to the study, the pattern of drinking is not determined, primarily, by the quantity of alcohol consumed, but by how it is consumed. For example, drinking is flagged as dangerous if alcohol is typically consumed outside of mealtimes, out of the home, and to get drunk.

In May 2018, Scotland introduced a minimum unit price of 50p per unit (8g) of alcohol, with the aim of reducing abusive drinking.

The most effective way to reduce abusive drinking, according to the study, is to impose a minimum unit price (MUP) on alcohol, similar to the Scottish model.

Research shows that, even though binge drinkers and other heavy drinkers are less responsive to changes in the price of alcohol, the imposition of an MUP is likely to have a much larger impact on their consumption. The reason is that binge drinkers and other heavy drinkers, drink such cheap alcohol that a minimum unit price will substantially increase the price that they would have to pay.

South Africa’s situation is at least as bad as Scotland’s. Although only about one third of South African adults say they have ever consumed alcohol, nearly half of those that do, drink at dangerous levels.

According to the WHO, South Africa scores a four out of five for our “pattern of drinking”, beaten only by heavy-drinking Russia and Ukraine.

The analysis done by the university indicates that if a R6 minimum unit price were instituted per standard drink, it would decrease alcohol consumption by 6.2% among binge drinkers, by 15.5% among other heavy drinkers, and by 4.6% among moderate drinkers.

The researchers further state the risk of increased alcohol prices leading to illicit home brewing is rather low. Their experience from the study of the economics of tobacco control, indicates the risk of illicit trade is often overstated by industry lobbyists, and is often attributed more to poor enforcement than to the level of the excise tax.

Reducing alcohol [problems] requires a multi-pronged approach, they conclude.

“While we do not suggest that the imposition of an MUP (or, for that matter, an increase in the excise tax on alcohol) is a silver bullet, it would indicate that the government is serious about addressing the crisis of alcohol abuse in the country, and would be a strong foundation on which other interventions can be built.”

Below are the SA stats from the WHO Global Alcohol Status Report 2018, click here to view the full report

Source: Cape Business News, IOGT.org

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