Easier access to booze drives up consumption, impulse buying, says UVic prof

Hosting liquor outlets in grocery stores could drive up alcohol consumption and have a number of unintended consequences

Hosting liquor outlets in grocery stores could drive up alcohol consumption and have a number of unintended consequences, says the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.

Richmond Steveston MLA John Yap, who is leading B.C.’s liquor policy review, is endorsing a proposal for liquor to be sold in grocery stores, but in a segregated outlets.

He called for no increase to the 731 private store licences that are active now, and no sales in convenience stores other than those already designated as rural agency stores. It’s the first announcement in a report of more than 70 recommendations for liquor law reform, which won’t won’t be released until the new year after cabinet has considered it.

Tim Stockwell, director of CARBC, argues that easier access to liquor leads to more impulse buying and higher consumption. Large chain groceries have sophisticated marketing, the potential to buy in bulk, he said, and could sell alcohol for discount prices – even as a loss-leader to draw people in.

“Major players will do what they do best – move it in bulk and make money,” Stockwell said. “To get people in, you offer cheaper alcohol and start charging more for food. The population likes more convenience, but the danger is the escalating sale of alcohol.”

He calls this a “doomsday scenario,” and noted the other 69-plus recommendations by Yap that haven’t been made public could offset the potential for negative consequences of booze in grocery stores.

CARBC has demonstrated in past studies that liquor prices have a strong correlation with public health outcomes and hospital visits. Alcohol consumption in the U.K. shot up when it introduced liquor into grocery stores, the professor said. “They’ve seen skyrocketing (alcohol related) deaths and liver disease,” Stockwell said. “We could potentially have the same thing.”

Yap said access to liquor in grocery stores is the No. 1 item on the wish list of British Columbians in terms of liquor reform, which emerged from a provincewide consultation process. Stockwell said it’s more likely having liquor outlets in groceries is being driven by business interests rather than strong public sentiment.

“I think its at the top of the wish list for retailers and manufacturers, or potential retailers. I’m sure its mainly driven by large profits available there,” he said. “Most people don’t find it difficult to find a liquor outlet, that it’s not a big deal.”

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