Updated 12 April 2018

New law proposes to raise drinking age to 21. Will it work?

The Liquor Amendment Bill has been going through the various processes before being passed into legislation, but will it bring about the desired, positive changes?

The Liquor Amendment Bill is said to be in the cabinet stage of the process leading up to it being passed into legislation and one of the major changes int he proposed law is to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 years old.

But will this be effective?

Studies have indicated that the human brain continues developing until a person has reached their mid-20s. Therefore, alcohol's effect on brain development was worse among younger people.

The University of Rochester's Medical Centre conducted studies and discovered that in comparison to adults, teenagers process information with a different part of the brain. Teen brains are believed to process information with the amygdala, whereas adults process information with the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex, also known as the rational part of your brain or the decision-making centre, doesn't fully develop until you're about 25 years old. 

The connections between the emotional part of the brain, the amygdala, and the decision-making centre, the prefrontal cortex, are still developing and they don't develop at the same speed. This may explain teenagers are more emotional than rational at their age.

Raise legal drinking age, ban the ads

Economics-based consultancy firm, Genesis Analytics, conducted a study on the socioeconomic impact, should the laws be passed, and presented it to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) before they gave the go-ahead for the bill to move further through the processes.

The study showed that one of the pros for raising the legal drinking age was that it could put a stop to young people in school uniforms frequenting shebeens.

The study, however, also showed that even though the legal drinking age may be raised, young people would still be able to buy alcohol where there is no community support for the prohibition of underage alcohol sales.

Alcohol advertising can appeal to young people as well – from being displayed on many platforms, like television and especially social media, to concepts used in advertising, such as humour and socialising.

Peter Ucko, CEO for the Tobacco Alcohol and Gambling Advisory Advocacy and Action Group (TAGAAAG), told Health24 that he doesn't have much faith that the new laws will have much of an effect.

"Much stricter and more sensible laws should be implemented. Advertising is an example of where there should be a total ban. These time restrictions are nonsense, it's worthless and won't have the desired effect.

"These laws may curb underage drinking a little, but government must set the standard like they have with no smoking indoors. After a while people complied and accepted it. A standard needs to be set that drinking or getting drunk is not 'cool'.

"Shebeens do, however, pose a big problem which the amendments address, but don't solve. Licencing and enforcement must be strengthened."

Change the laws, change the habits?

In a 2010 report, the World Health Organization classified South Africa as a country with a high alcohol consumption – the country was ranked at 30th out of 195 countries for total alcohol consumed per capita with 11L per person per year. (Belarus was ranked first with 17.5L.)

The Director-General of the Department of Trade and Industry, Lionel October, indicated that the proposed new liquor laws are about to be finalised at a Parliamentary committee meeting a few weeks ago.

According to a report by Huffington Post SA, the Department of Health (DoH) is calling for a complete ban on alcohol advertising. October says this means that the process will take longer to finalise.

The proposed new law, if passed, bans broadcasting of alcohol advertisements on radio and television between 6am and 10pm. The legal drinking age will be raised from 18 years to 21 years.

What are your thoughts on the liquor amendment bill? Will these changes have an effect on how much alcohol people in South Africa consume? Will it help curb underage drinking? What more should we be doing? Share your thoughts by emailing and we may publish them. Should you wish to remain anonymous, please let us know.