- BC Games
With booze, does easy access lead to more harm?
If the province allows the sale of alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores the move should come with a heavy dose of education, says Burnaby Coun. Paul McDonell.
But first the government needs to acknowledge the health impacts of alcohol use, says an addictions expert.
With the provincial government currently seeking feedback for its review of B.C. liquor laws, allowing the sale of booze in supermarkets, as is common in the U.S., has been a repeated suggestion by some.
"If you're going to do that, the educational component's got to go with it," said McDonell, chair of Burnaby's social issues committee.
"Anytime you make something like liquor more available, then there's sometimes problems associated with it because people don't have the responsibility."
McDonell said he personally favours more open liquor laws, because the vast majority of people know how to handle alcohol.
"But unfortunately if it's in the stores I guess we have to be a little bit concerned about underage people. Do we put more onus on store owners?"
There are laws that prohibit the sale of cigarettes to minors but they still manage to get a hold of them, he noted.
"Back in the '50s when I was in Quebec in the air force, I used to go buy [alcohol] in the corner store then. Here we are, 65 years later for god's sake, and you still can't buy it at the corner store. So we're a little slow catching up to them."
It's likely such a move would be limited to beer and wine, like in the U.S. and other provinces, he said, suggesting the province would be reluctant to flood the market with hard liquor because of the significant revenue such products generate for the government.
But before the government even begins to consider making access to alcohol more convenient, it needs to acknowledge the health impacts it causes in B.C., says Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.
Over a 10-year period, between 2002 and 2011, B.C. Vital Statistics reported 18,752 alcohol-related deaths, he said. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control reported almost 190,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions. And Statistics Canada reported 800,000 alcohol-related crimes.
While most people might consider alcohol addiction the greatest concern about increasing the availability of booze, Stockwell stressed you don't have to be an alcoholic to die from illnesses or injuries related to alcohol.
Most people are not aware that research has shown alcohol use is linked to numerous types of cancer, he said. Nor are they generally able to figure out how much they're drinking if they want to follow low-risk drinking guidelines as the amount varies depending on the type of drink and its alcohol content.
Alcoholism, "that's a tiny problem compared to impaired driving, alcohol-related violence, cancer-related illnesses," Stockwell said. "There's about 60 ways alcohol can kill us, most people are unaware of most of those. Dependence on alcohol is kind of a minor issue in the big scheme of things."
In its review of liquor laws, the government must first acknowledge the health risks, he said.
"I don't think until we do that can we have a sensible conversation about whether we put it in a corner store or supermarket … or wherever we're going to put it."
The province will be accepting the public's input and ideas until Oct. 31 before John Yap, parliamentary secretary for liquor policy reform, uses it to inform his report to Attorney General Suzanne Anton at the end of November.