South Africa: Calls For Alcohol Minimum Unit Price
About half of South Africans who use alcohol consume it in heavy amounts. While there is no safe limit for alcohol use, WHO has rated South Africa among the three worst countries concerning pattern of alcohol consumption. Annual per capita alcohol use is a staggering 30 liters among alcohol users and 65% of alcohol users between 15 and 19 years of age are binge using alcohol. The majority of them consume cheap alcohol. A new study reveals the best way to break this vicious cycle is introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol.
While the health harms of alcohol can affect anyone consuming it, a greater harm to society is seen caused by people who use alcohol heavily or binge on it. A study was conducted by the Western Cape government to find the best price-based interventions to reduce alcohol consumption and related harm. Using data from the National Income Dynamics study, a nationally representative sample of 8000 households was examined. Alcohol users were categorized 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.
The key findings are as follows:
- 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
This shows that people with heavy alcohol consumption supply themselves with cheap alcohol.
Best Buy Intervention to Prevent and Reduce Alcohol Harm
While increasing excise taxes is a WHO recommended Best Buy to reduce consumption, this study has found it may not be the only solution to reduce consumption of users with problematic alcohol use patterns.
The study suggests minimum unit price for alcohol will yield strong results in curbing the harm on binge and heavy alcohol users. The reason is that a minimum unit price will greatly increase the price of a unit of alcohol for people in the binge and heavy user categories as they rely on very cheap alcohol.
For example a minimum unit price of R 6 would decrease alcohol consumption by 6.2% among binge users, by 15.5% among other heavy users, and by 4.6% among low dose users.
If the Minimum unit price was set higher the results could be even better at reducing the alcohol harm.
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.
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,” stated Researchers, Corné Van Walbeek and Grieve Chelwa, as per Business Live.
Alcohol Harm in South Africa
In South Africa, 59% of alcohol users binge on the substance. In a country where only 30.1% are users of alcohol the patterns are problematic. South Africa is placed at the highest rate regarding years of life lost due to alcohol and a staggering 12.4% of South African men suffer from alcohol use disorders.
The data clearly indicates it is time for the government to fill the gaps in alcohol control policy, and be serious about addressing the alcohol problem in the country as suggested by the researchers recommending minimum unit price for alcohol.