Binge-drinking is a huge problem in SA — but we can’t admit it

04 January 2018 | Story Dave Chambers.

One in seven adults admits to being binge-drinkers‚ but economists say the problem is likely to be much worse.

Based on admissions in a survey of 20‚000 adults‚ University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers say 4.8-billion alcoholic drinks were consumed in 2014/15. But in the same period‚ the South African Revenue Service collected excise duties on four times as many drinks.

And an evaluation in 2017 found that only 14.6% of alcohol consumption was accounted for in admissions during the National Income Dynamics Study.

Nicole Vellios and Corné van Walbeek‚ from UCT’s Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit‚ say the huge drinking problem revealed in their research strengthens the argument for "strong‚ evidence-based policies that reduce the detrimental effects of alcohol use".

Writing in the January edition of the South African Medical Journal‚ they say: "The alcohol industry argues that it does not encourage harmful use of alcohol. Since a very large proportion of alcohol consumed in South Africa is consumed hazardously‚ with associated detrimental consequences‚ the ... industry’s statements sound hollow‚ since they depend on these drinkers for profits."

Journal editor Bridget Farham calls in an editorial for a crackdown on alcohol advertising‚ a measure also recommended in the National Liquor Policy Review tabled in 2016 by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.

Said Farham: "If we are going to ban advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies‚ alcohol should be subject to the same scrutiny.

"The adverts for alcohol on television‚ in cinemas and on billboards‚ like those we used to see for tobacco‚ equate drinking alcohol with financial and social success — ironical in the face of the effect the substance has on many of those who drink it."

Vellios and Van Walbeek said the 2014/15 NIDS results‚ based on written questionnaires‚ found that half of men and 20% of women drink. Binge-drinking — defined as five or more drinks a day — was admitted by 14% of adults.

The economists said while alcohol taxes were expected to total R20.8bn in 2016/17 and the alcohol industry was responsible for 3.9% of GDP (about R139bn)‚ the costs of drinking — including healthcare‚ road accidents‚ premature death and absenteeism — were 10%-12% of GDP (R356bn to R427bn).

"Binge-drinking reduction policies should focus on groups with a high prevalence of binge drinking: males‚ black Africans‚ individuals aged 25-34 and people living with partners‚" they said.

"There is very strong evidence that smokers are substantially more likely to binge drink than non-smokers … [so] measures that reduce smoking prevalence may have the additional benefit of reducing the prevalence of binge drinking."
This article first appeared on BusinessDay. Cornè van Walbeek is a Professor in the School of Economics, University of Cape Town, and PI of the Economics of Tobacco Control projects. Nicole Vellios is a Research Officer at SALDRU, University of Cape Town, working on the Economics of Tobacco Control Project.

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