The Toronto Star
February 7, 2013
Azmi Farah thinks it is only a matter of time before he can sell beer, wine and spirits at his mid-town Toronto convenience store and is skeptical about a new study linking increased private availability of booze to a hike in alcohol-related deaths.
If anything, the convenience of buying booze at your local convenience store could increase public safety by reducing the need to get behind the wheel when drinking, he argues.
“I’m not convinced. Better availability would mean people wouldn’t be driving all over the place. You’d see less drinking and driving,” said the proprietor of a Hasty Market store.
Farah was commenting on a British Columbia study that found the number of alcohol-related deaths jumps by 2 per cent when the number of private liquor stores increases by 10 per cent.
Researchers looked at all types of deaths related to alcohol–including traffic accidents, industrial accidents, homicides, alcohol poisoning, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis and cancer.
The study was published online Wednesday in the journal Addiction. Lead author Tim Stockwell said the findings will have significant implications for international alcohol policy.
It will no doubt fuel the debate in Ontario over whether beer, wine and spirits should be sold in corner stores, something provincial Conservative leader Tim Hudak has recently proposed.
Premier Kathleen Wynne is opposed to the idea.
Stockwell said Ontarians might want to look at his study as it considers the issue.
“It is the study of a Canadian province that is not very dissimilar. And it is not an outlier. These studies are (similar to) other American studies, Scandinavian studies (of jurisdictions where) government monopolies are privatized,” said Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research of BC and professor of psychology at the University of Victoria.
“There are clear effects on consumption and related harm. People have to consider if their freedom and convenient access to alcohol is worth the price of more alcohol-related deaths and health costs and crime costs,” he added.
While British Columbia does not allow for the sale of beer and wine in corner stores, the province has allowed for more privatization of the industry in recent years. Booze is still available in government stores in that province but increasingly sold in privately owned liquor stores as well.
The researchers, who considered data between 2002 and 2009, also estimated that a 10 per cent increase in minimum alcohol prices is associated with a 32 per cent drop in alcohol-related deaths.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association is lobbying hard for the sale of beer and wine in corner stores and plans to soon ramp up a petition campaign.
Farah said a day rarely goes by when the issue doesn’t come up at his store.
“Our customers always ask about it and say, ‘I wish you had it,'” he said, adding that greater local access would mean patrons would not over-buy booze.
Dave Bryans, CEO of the association, was also skeptical of the study, particularly as it related to drinking and driving deaths.
“Over the last 10 years, drinking and driving has gone down substantially. (Meantime) we have had more access. You have wine available in grocery stores, you have bars staying open longer, … we have microbreweries popping up everywhere,” he said.
But Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, said his organization is opposed to the idea of corner stores selling booze.
“It increases access for intoxicated patrons and young people because the goal is profit, not social responsibility,” he said.
Farah took umbrage at that claim, arguing that social responsibility is very important to retailers like himself. He said he’d been instructing employees earlier in the day about the dangers of selling tobacco to minors.