South Africa Aims to Raise Drinking Age to Clamp Down on Abuse

South Africa may raise its drinking age and hold beverage companies liable for unlicensed trade in their products, a step to reduce the cost and impact of alcohol abuse.

The government proposed increasing the minimum age for consuming alcohol to 21 from 18, the Department of Trade and Industry said in a notice published on May 20 in the official Government Gazette. Drink makers would face sanctions when their products are found in illegal outlets.

A third of all hospital admissions in South Africa are related to alcohol, and birth defects linked to drink are as much as 141 times higher than in the U.S., the document said. The World Health Organization estimates the cost of harmful use of alcohol in South Africa may exceed 10 percent of gross domestic product.

“There are very real, rife and negative consequences attached to liquor abuse,” the government document said. “Without proper and urgent intervention, these problems, which are already reaching endemic proportions, will be uncontrollable.”

The rules would require local authorities to restrict times and trading areas for liquor sales. Retailers may face claims if they serve alcohol to people who are already drunk, the department said in the notice.

The government is seeking comment on the proposals which will be included in an amendment of the Liquor Act of 2003. Interested parties have 30 days to submit comment.

SABMiller Plc is South Africa’s largest brewer and derived 20 percent of global sales in its 2014-fiscal year from the nation. Distell Group Ltd. and Capevin Holdings Ltd. produce and distribute wines and spirits in South Africa.

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