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Public Health news

War on demon drink

4 Feb 2014 05:56
Alcohol abuse costs South Africans an estimated R245bn a year, and policies are needed to mitigate its harm in the same way that smoking is tackled.
Alcohol abuse is costing South Africa dearly in terms of money and loss of life. Image: Nicholas Tarling Free Digital Photos
Alcohol abuse is costing South Africa dearly in terms of money and loss of life. Image: Nicholas Tarling Free Digital Photos
This is according to an article titled The Cost of Harmful Alcohol Use published in the South African Medical Journal. It is based on research commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry to assist the government in making policies on the sale of alcohol.

Authors included the Medical Research Council's Richard Matzopoulos and Joanne Corrigall from the University of Cape Town's School of Public Health.

The article found current policies around the sale and cost of alcohol were designed to maximise industry profits, taxes and job creation, but did not mitigate the harmful effect of alcohol on society.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has called for a ban on alcohol advertising, which has been widely opposed by the industry on the basis that it would lead to job losses.

Matzopoulos told The Times that increasing taxes on alcohol, introducing a minimum price for alcoholic beverages, trading hour restrictions, increasing the minimum age for alcohol consumption and advertising restrictions all reduced demand for alcohol.

Research for the World Health Organisation by UCT economist Corne van Walbeek found that increasing the cost of alcohol reduces how much people drink.

"Increasing prices by about 10% means people drink about 5% less," said Van Walbeek.

The authors found:
  • Alcohol is the most abused drug by South Africans;
  • Alcohol contributes to 7% of the total disease burden in South Africa;
  • It is the third-largest contributor to death and disability in South African after sexually transmitted infections and interpersonal violence;
  • Individuals spend about 13% of discretionary disposable income on alcohol;
  • Nearly a quarter of driver deaths would be prevented if people didn't drive drunk;
  • R9-billion is spent by police and prisons in a year on alcohol-related crimes.
Head of the department of emergency medicine at Helen Joseph Hospital, Dr Lara Goldstein, said patients who had been assaulted had often been drinking. This implies interpersonal violence takes place when both the perpetrator and victim are drunk.

She said often pedestrians injured in traffic collisions had been drinking, or the driver of the car had been drinking.

The Human Sciences Research Council has reported that smoking in South Africa has decreased from 32% of adults in 1993 to 16.4% in 2012.

The council attributes this to government policies that include warnings, a ban on smoking in indoor public places and high taxes on cigarettes.

Source: The Times via I-Net Bridge


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Sid Peimer
Sid Peimer
People smoke less because there are less places to smoke. Advertising and health warnings probably had a miniscule effect. Smoking is on the decline, so cigarette companies can predict with some certainty where their future lies. Alcohol producers face a different conundrum. The situation from an economic perspective is simple: people need to drink more to stimulate the economy, but then the burden on society needs to be dramatically reduced. At first this might seem insurmountable (or mutually exclusive), but if we managed to reduce the average alcohol content per drink - the only person who loses out is the government - they receive less tax. But then they get the upside as well - lower burden from accidents etc. I think there should be a kinda CODESA for alcohol, eg:
1. Reduce the average % alc / ml consumed by x% in x years. In other words, reduce the average % of alcohol in total, not the amount of beverages consumed. You could argue that people would drink more to make up for the deficit, but then no one's really studied it (that I know of).
2. Introduce sterner laws against all alcohol-related transgressions, especially spousal abuse.
3. Accept the fact that it can have a devastating affect on family life, and that alcohol abuse is often a symptom of an inability to cope - ways need to be identified to assist these individuals - we need to start at school level.
4. Accept the fact that the disease of alcoholism exists, and begin combatting it by identifying at-risk individuals at an early age.
5. Prevent the sale of cheap liquor in areas where residents complain of vagrants (less places to drink equals less amount drunk)
etc etc
Posted on 4 Feb 2014 15:35
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