Changes to liquor laws not all about availability

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Since Sept. 2013, the B.C. government has been working to remodel the province’s liquor laws. The government released its final recommendations Jan. 31, which highlight things like allowing alcohol to be sold in grocery stores, removing the fences around beer gardens, and allowing establishments to offer happy hours. Though desire for added convenience has influenced the proposal, those  of the recommendations that involve reducing the negative health and social aspects may have been overlooked by many reviewers of the proposal.

“We know that alcohol is already responsible for thousands of deaths and hospitalizations, as well as involvement in many crimes,” says Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. (CARBC) representative and UVic research associate Kara Thompson, “and so the result of that is significant social costs in terms of loss of life, but also in terms of economic costs and huge healthcare-increasing costs as a result of drinking in the province.”

Attorney General for Liquor Policy Reform John Yap released 72 recommendations in the final report of the B.C. liquor review. Many have to do with increasing convenience and availability of alcohol to British Columbians, but the report also tries to find the right balance in terms of health and safety impacts. “In the report itself . . . the very first set of recommendations are all health recommendations,” Thompson says, emphasizing the ways that the province is trying to counteract the potential harmful effects.

“Having a realistic understanding of the inherent risk of alcohol abuse in British Columbia today is a key directive for this review,” the report says, “to create a licensing system that responds to emerging marketplace realities and reflects current lifestyles and societal values, while minimizing health and social harms caused by liquor.” The proposed changes to B.C. liquor policy take into account positive as well as negative results, but, as Thompson says, “I think whether or not it’s effective at reducing the costs of alcohol will largely depend on how the changes are implemented.”

“Many of the more popular recommendations, such as putting liquor in grocery stores and allowing beverages to be sold in more places will, the evidence tells us, increase the number of injuries, deaths, and crimes from alcohol use,” she says. “If they go ahead and do those things prior to implementing some of the more health-cost-reducing initiatives, such as changing minimum prices, implanting some of the social responsibility campaigns . . ., then we’re going to see increase in harm, and not reduction.”

The provincial government has not announced when it will implement the changes, and only time will tell how they will impact health and safety in B.C.

“Overall, I think there is a good balance, and it’s important to talk about the good things that the province is doing to protect people from the harmful consequences of alcohol,” says Thompson.

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