Mac’s Convenience Stores is promising Ontarians a deal: 27 new convenience stores, the expansion of others, and a bunch of new jobs if they are allowed to sell beer, wine and spirits. But is Mac’s jobs for booze pledge really a good deal for Ontarians?

Let’s look at where the jobs would come from. Mac’s could bleed them from The Beer Store and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Better paying jobs with good benefits from the province’s major retailers of alcohol would be replaced by more poorly paid jobs. That hardly seems like a good deal.

Or worse, the jobs could come from expanded alcohol sales. With more alcohol sold and consumed, we would likely see more alcohol-related harm and more alcohol-related costs to society. That hardly seems like a good deal, either.

Already Ontarians spend at least $5.3 billion a year on health care, law enforcement, corrections and lost productivity related to alcohol, a number that could go up significantly if drinking rates surge. And studies suggest that a boom in alcohol sales is exactly what will happen if we let convenience stores start selling beer and wine, whisky and vodka. There are 1,000 or so Beer Store and LCBO outlets in the province, and more than 10,000 convenience stores. Having liquor at every corner store, with longer hours, and more alcohol advertising, the research tells us, will increase the amount people buy.

Take British Columbia as an example. When B.C. added private outlets to the existing government stores, alcohol sales had been on the decline. After private stores were given the province’s blessing, the trend changed, with drinking starting to increase. A second B.C. study found that the more private stores opened up in a neighbourhood, the higher the rates of alcohol-related deaths were, suggesting the two were related.

Alcohol is no ordinary commodity. As one of the leading causes of preventable disease and preventable death in Ontario, we have good reason to control its availability. Tighter availability means less drinking to excess and less alcohol-related damage. With 10 times as many stores selling booze, more would be sold and more would be consumed.

More drinking, unfortunately, means more people getting behind the wheel while impaired. It means more crashes, more injuries and more deaths. Upwards of 1,000 Canadians die from impaired driving-related deaths each year, and Ontario’s share of those would likely increase.

Increased drinking also means increased violence. It means more assaults, in and outside the home, and more murders and suicides. More alcohol means more injuries and deaths from fires, from falls and by drowning.

Then there are the long-term health problems. It doesn’t take much drink to raise your risk of deadly diseases such as breast cancer, liver cancer or bleeding ulcers. An increase in drinking would surely mean a future rise in these diseases and others.

Finally, a major concern with alcohol deregulation is the difficulty preventing sales to minors. Studies comparing public and private outlets have confirmed that stores like The Beer Store and the LCBO, with their better trained workers, are generally more consistent at keeping teens from buying alcohol.

We all like convenience, the ability to easily get the things we want when we want them. But the stakes are just too high, the downsides of alcohol convenience too great.

Liquor control board systems are effective in moderating alcohol use and limiting alcohol-related harm. Our current approach balances consumer access, selection and service with the need to minimize alcohol-related harm and the costs that come with it, and surveys by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada have shown that Ontarians are generally satisfied with it.

For Ontarians who care about reducing traffic deaths, domestic violence, and alcohol-related health problems, for those concerned about the costs of alcohol to society, the answer is clear. Mac’s is offering us a bad deal, and Ontarians should say no thanks.

Kapil Khatter is a family physician and University of Ottawa faculty member. Andrew Murie is the chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada. Norman Giesbrecht is senior scientist emeritus at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Source: Ottawa Citizen


Last updated on: 2013-11-01 | Link to this post