Academic journal article Contemporary Drug Problems

The Effects of Privatization of Alcohol Sales in Alberta on Suicide Mortality Rates

Academic journal article Contemporary Drug Problems

The Effects of Privatization of Alcohol Sales in Alberta on Suicide Mortality Rates

Article excerpt

Many Western jurisdictions had publicly controlled alcohol retail systems in the middle portion of the 20th century. However, by the latter part of the century many were considering moving away from public control of alcohol retailing to private control, while other jurisdictions privatized some or all of the alcohol retailing system (Her, Giesbrecht, Room & Rehm 1998; Mann, Rehm, Giesbrecht et al. 2005). Proponents of privatization point to the potential economic benefits that may occur. These include funds received from the sale of previously state-owned retail outlets, the sale of licences to sell alcohol and the cost savings resulting from the reduction in staff and facilities required for alcohol sales (Beverage Alcohol System Review Panel [BASRP] 2005). However, others point to the likely impact of privatization of alcohol sales on consumption and health problems (e.g., Mann, Rehm et al. 2005). One analysis in Ontario estimated that alcohol consumption would increase by between 10% and 20% if Ontario's government-controlled alcohol retail system were fully privatized (Her et al. 1998). Studies of privatization of sales of alcoholic beverages in the United States indicate that availability and consumption increased; Wagenaar & Holder (1995), in a review of the American literature, found increases in consumption ranging between 13% and 150%. Increasing alcohol consumption can be expected to increase alcoholrelated morbidity and mortality (Bruun, Edwards, Lumio, Mäkelä, Pan, Popham et al. 1975; Room, Babor & Rehm 2005), and government control of retail sales of alcohol has been recommended as a key public health measure to control alcohol-related damage in society (Babor, Caetano, Casswell, Edwards, Giesbrecht, Graham et al. 2003).

In the Canadian experience, moving from public to private control of retail outlets has occurred in the provinces of Alberta and Quebec (Demers & Fournier 2006; MacKenzie & Giesbrecht 2006), and in Ontario and other provinces has been proposed on several occasions (Giesbrecht, Stoduto & Kavanagh 2006). In Alberta and Quebec the numbers of alcohol outlets increased substantially (Her et al. 1998). In Quebec some divergence in evidence on consumption changes has been seen (Her et al. 1998), with the most recent analyses finding evidence for modest but significant increases in some forms of consumption (Trolldal 2005b). In Alberta evidence has been found for a significant increase in consumption of spirits, particularly at a time when consumption was decreasing in other parts of the country (Flanagan 2003; Trolldal 2005a). As well, government tax levels have been reduced several times since demonopolization of retail outlets, and this has been attributed to pressure from the alcohol retailers (Flanagan 2003).

In their review of the literature on privatization of alcohol sales, Her, Giesbrecht, Room & Rehm (1999) noted that "there is relatively little evidence on the effects of demonopolization, or privatization, directly on alcohol-related harms" (p. 1135), since the topic of harm was not a common focus of these studies. There is some evidence that privatization in Alberta has been associated with an increase in criminal offenses, such as liquor store break-ins and more relaxed enforcement of laws pertaining to underage purchases (Laxer, Green, Harrington & New 1994). Furthermore, within Canada, Alberta continues to have some of the highest rates of alcohol-related problems such as drunk-driving fatalities (Mayhew, Brown & Simpson 2002). Trolldal (2005b) found no evidence for an impact of privatization on drinking-driving fatality rates in Alberta. Since several initiatives to reduce drinking-driving rates were introduced over the same period in Alberta specifically, and in Canada in general (e.g., Voas, Marques, Tippetts & Beirness 1999), any effects of privatization on this measure could have been masked. Other alcohol-related causes of death, such as liver cirrhosis, are chronic conditions resulting from the accumulation of alcohol-related damage over many years (Mann, Smart & Govoni 2003). …

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