Making alcohol more widely available has health cost implications

Ontario’s corner store owners are trying to stir up liquor privatization in the midst of the provincial election. They want thousands of convenience stores to be able to sell beer and wine in the province. The fringe Libertarian Party is going further by demanding the “repeal” of the LCBO and to allow anyone to sell alcohol.

Apparently what we need in the province is more access to alcohol, or so the corner stores say. For most of us, this is definitely a head scratcher.

When a final decision is made, Ontario needs to look very closely at the real costs of doing so, including the health costs.

The Local Health Integration Networks finally seem to be coming around to the idea of dealing with upstream costs, realizing there are huge savings to be had by preventing illness.

Allowing thousands of corners stores to sell booze would make such efforts into farce.

With the exception of the right-wing Fraser Institute, most studies have directly linked availability of liquor to consumption levels. Of course there are other factors, including price, but availability appears to be a key indicator.

As liquor sales go up, so do other health problems, ranging from liver cirrhosis to depression to addiction – all representing significant cost to our health system.

Provinces set up Liquor Control Boards precisely to limit the sale of liquor based on rational social needs.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse found in a 2004 survey that 32 per cent of respondents reported that in the past year they had experienced some harm due to drinking by others.

Walking into a convenience store you may be tempted to sign their petition. Before doing so, think about how much you will really have to pay to get your beer and wine at the corner store. You may not like the answer.

5 responses to “Making alcohol more widely available has health cost implications

  1. What you’re referring to is what voters have told Angus Reid Public opinion – twice. Once in late 2010 and again in July 2011 ( 2/3rds of Ontario voters who consume alcohol from the government-run LCBO or the foreign-owned Beer Store indicated to Angus Reid that they want beer and wine sold in locations in addition the current duopoly. Does that mean every convenience store wants or should sell certain alcohol – no. But we know from independent studies ( and from the direct experience of over 200 convenience stores selling alcohol in Ontario that they do an excellent job checking for age and responsibly selling age-restricted products.

  2. Like the LCBO, we are skeptical of a study funded by convenience stores eager to cash in on the sale of alcohol at the expense of public interest. This is hardly what we would call “independent.” And its hardly a duopoly when you can buy alcohol from the LCBO, the Beer Store, grocery stores with wine kiosks, agency stores, wineries and more. How much “access” to alcohol do we reasonably need? In Alberta the number of retail locations that sold alcohol exploded after privatization. Alberta now has almost double the number of impaired driving convictions per capita as Ontario. And then there are the direct health costs associated with more alcohol consumption. The numbers on card check were not all that different in the industry-sponsored poll — but an explosion of locations gives under-aged teens many more chances at getting alcohol., doesn’t it?

  3. A couple of points: The Angus Reid survey was entirely performed by that company. Their reputation as a research firm is excellent. If OPSEU believes they manufacture poll results to suit client requests, there’s not much anyone can say to respond to that. If you’d like to speak to the experts at Angus Reid who did the study, I can arrange that for you. Second, this poll was not about privatization. No one is asking that the LCBO be privatized. Privatization is not on anyone’s wish list. Lastly, access to age restricted products by minors depends on how diligent retailers are checking for age. As we’ve seen, convenience stores do an excellent job of this and rate higher than the LCBO or the Beer Store. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. That’s why they’re continuously training and teaching workers on how to do a better and better job through the program. But the fact remains, regardless of the number of outlets, they’re the best at keeping age-restricted products from youth.

  4. We were referring to the secret shopper, not Angus Reid, but nice to know that your clients also sponsored the Angus Reid poll. I’m not sure how you can take sales out of the LCBO and not call it privatization, but obviously this is getting to semantics than don’t address the main question of consumption and social costs. Regardless of who is slightly better at card check, assuming your survey to be correct, if you vastly increase the outlets, then the chances of a teen getting alcohol is much greater unless you get 100 per cent card check. If you fail at the nearby Liquor store, odds are you’ll be successful at one of the corners stores in the neighborhood.

  5. Pingback: Making alcohol more widely available has health cost implications | Ian's City Scope Blog

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