New alcohol controls passed into law

Parliament has passed major changes to the Alcohol Control Bill 2020 including new regulations cracking down on the sale, production and advertising of alcohol.

The legislation aims to tackle the issue of alcohol consumption by controlling its availability: reducing demand: and minimising the harmful effects of alcohol abuse.

The advertising and promotion of alcohol products will also be subject to regulation.

The Minister of Customs and Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, said the bill has already been signed into law by the Head of State. 

“However there are certain aspects requiring consultation with the business community hence the delay in [...] implementing the [law]," the Minister said.

The bill was first tabled in Parliament in 2018.

It was approved in Parliament last month with a number of accompanying recommendations by the Parliament's Economic Sector Committee, chaired by senior M.P. and former Deputy Prime Minister, Lauofo Fonotoe Meredith. 

Other M.P.s include Fa'alogo Iosefa Sopi, Toleafoa Ken Va'afusuaga and Ili Setefano Taateo.

Tialavea said the bill requires alcohol advertisements go through the Liquor Board for approval, before they can be aired.

“It’s understandable that it will be costly to the businesses if the Board does not approve the ad and they will have to remake it, but these are some of the changes the Government is looking at implementing soon," the Minister said.

“Children 21 years and younger are not allowed to play any part in any alcohol advertisement and should not under any circumstances [be] captured in a family setting. 

"That is illegal."

Similarly the law mandates that servers of alcohol at bars and hotels must be over the age of 21, closing a gap in the law on alcohol age restrictions.

“These are some of the issues highlighted by the Economic Sector Committee and it’s now part of the law," Tialavea said.

The Minister, who is also the Chairman of the Liquor Board, said the Act has also been amended to ensure wine cannot be sold in plastic bottles.

“It will be costly to the companies but it is the law," the Minister said.

"The National Scientific Research Organisation is now required to regulate and implement guidelines on the production of alcohol; including the monitoring of ingredients."

Another issue highlighted by the Minister under the Act is the responsibility of hoteliers and the night clubs to hire professional bouncers to ensure the safety of members of the public.

The Economic Sector Committee made a number of recommendations to combat alcohol abuse.

“It is clear that citizens support the objectives of the Bill, specifically in terms of minimising the negative impacts of alcohol in Samoa," the committee concluded.

"After deliberations and considerations, there hasn’t been one rejection of the objectives of the Bill."

The committee further highlighted the need to entrench the rights of hoteliers and nightclubs to ask for identification to confirm the legal age of potential customers.

The committee found one of the issues raised by the public related to the  price and strength of alcohol.

“We recorded a very cheap price to buy some alcohol in the country such as the [brand] labelled 'olioli',” the committee observed. 

“It is noted that the price does not [match] the prescribed strength.

“The committee is reviewing the lower cost of alcohol which caused [a] greater risk of alcohol-related problems within families and communities.”

The excessive consumption of certain domestic spirits has been raised by several Justices.

Several have recently sounded the alarm about the corrosive effect of what they described as cheap "jet fuel" alcohol on the community.

Judges have urged authorities to address the issues posed by locally produced vodka which has featured in cases relating to violence coming before the courts.

The committee also expressed concern over the hygienic conditions in which alcoholic beverages were produced.

“Dogs wandered around these facilities but that the odor level was unsafe for staff,” the report said. 

"The committee also noted that the health of the staff at these factories is not safe and the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health should take [this] into account."

The committee recommends that legislation regulate the production of alcohol. 

They recommended the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (S.R.O.S.) create guidelines on the production and the use of ingredients in alcohol.

“The Liquor Committee also recommends that monthly inspections be conducted to ensure that alcohol is effective,” the report noted.  

"Perhaps raising the price of alcohol may reduce the negative impacts caused from excessive alcohol consumption."

Among other recommendations, the committee has called for hotels and nightclub owners to regulate security officers' behaviour.

“There have been recent cases which show night watchmen as instigators of violence rather than restoring peace and safety within hotels," its report reads.

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