After nearly 80 days, the BC liquor policy review wraps up today. For the last 8 weeks we have followed the comments and tweets and have heard thoughts and opinions from the public on how to change liquor policy in BC. In reviewing the comments on John Yap’s blog, several main themes continued to emerge. First, it is clear that many British Columbian’s feel the current liquor laws are outdated (i.e., “our liquor laws can only be described as archaic – insulting, too”). We agree – in the last decade we have learned much about effective alcohol policy internationally, as well as the costs and benefits of alcohol, which are not reflected in the current laws.
Second, the overwhelming majority of comments centered on a desire for increased convenience and access, both for sale and purchase of alcohol and offered suggestions such as selling alcohol in grocery stores, allowing minors to eat in pubs, and having fewer licensing regulations. Many felt that these changes would help boost local economy and tourism revenue (i.e., “Canada is one of the only countries in the world that restricts the sale of beer and wine to liquor stores. This is a huge inconvenience for consumers, hurts tourism, limits competition, and does not help our economy in any way”), while others cautioned against the harms potentially caused from alcohol, with a particular concern about increasing access to minors (i.e., “Long-term, it will encourage young people to consume more alcohol”). Further, many comments emphasized personal responsibility and suggested that liquor regulations should not punish the majority of responsible drinkers for the irresponsible few (i.e., “Why not stop punishing people for wanting to have a beer at the beach with some friends, and instead punish those who are drinking irresponsibly”). In our alcohol policy blog series we have tried to respond to these comments and offer evidence to facilitate an informed discussion around some of these issues such as balancing harms and costs, privatization, and increased accessibility.
John Yap’s announcement Tuesday indicates that BC may well go forward with some initiatives to increase consumer convenience in BC, such as selling alcohol in grocery stores. We understand the value placed on convenience in our busy lives and appreciate also the desire from people in the business sector to improve the viability of their enterprises in a challenging economic environment. We hope to see more announcements that respond to the desire for convenience while addressing British Columbian’s desire to minimize the number of deaths, hospitalization, and injuries caused by alcohol in BC every year. We know from a recent random survey of people in BC that 84% are in support of using liquor laws to reduce these types of problems that are associated with alcohol use. Research in British Columbia suggests that influencing the price of the cheapest products is of far greater significance when it comes to improving health and safety outcomes than are the number of liquor outlets. Furthermore, maintaining minimum alcohol prices protects the profits of many sectors of the alcohol industry, enhances government revenue and impacts mostly on the heaviest alcohol consumers – with substantial health benefits resulting for that group. A modern approach to liquor regulation in the 21st-century involves allowing consumers more responsibility, providing them with better information to make choices and further encouraging those choices through a price structure which favors lower alcohol content beverages. These changes may help reduce any increases in alcohol-related problems that could arise from loosening restrictions in order to increase convenience. With the right balance, maybe it is possible to increase convenience while using evidence-based strategies to simultaneously reduce the substantial harms from alcohol.
***Tune in next week for the first post in our next Blog series “The cannabis question: where do we go from here?
Authors: Kara Thompson, PhD and Tim Stockwell, Director, Centre for Addictions Research of BC