Researchers have stressed that alcohol monopolies have the potential to play an important role in the prevention or reduction of public health problems (Holder, 1993; Room, 1993). Many different types of alcohol availability have been examined in terms of their impact on alcohol consumption patterns, such as density, price, and closing hours (Osterberg, 1993; Edwards, Anderson, Babor et al., 1994). However, practically no research exists on the impact of permitting credit cards and debit cards for the purchase of alcohol. In Ontario, Canada, regulatory changes were introduced in 1994 permitting the purchase of alcoholic beverages with credit cards and debit cards (bank cards) at government-operated retail sales outlets (i.e., liquor stores). These changes were rationalized on the grounds of providing more convenient services to customers; however, support for the policy change was not assessed, nor was the likely impact of credit and debit cards on financial problems or consumption. The purpose of the present study is to examine the opinions, financial problems, and consumption patterns of credit and debit card users and other drinkers before and after the introduction of credit/debit cards. As well, the proportion of total sales attributable to credit cards, debit cards, and cash will be examined before and after credit cards were introduced.
In Ontario there are about 600 liquor stores, operated and regulated by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), which sell a variety of spirits, wine, and beer products. Credit and debit cards were gradually introduced as a purchasing option over a one-and-a-half-year period, beginning in the summer of 1994 and ending in December 1995. As shown in Table 1, during the LCBO's 1994/95 fiscal year, 2% of all sales (in dollars) were made with a credit card and fewer than 1% were debit card transactions. In 1996/97, nearly 10% of sales were credit card and 11% were debit card transactions.
Opinions about alcohol policy
Public opinions about permitting credit and debit card sales in alcohol sales outlets have not been assessed in prior research; however, many studies are available on opinions about other alcohol-related policy measures. Several studies have demonstrated that public opinion shifts in favor of government policy decisions after they have been implemented. For example, Australian data on drinking and driving indicated that after the implementation of a policy permitting random breath testing for drinking and driving, public support for the policy increased (Room, 1996; Homel, Carseldine and Kearns, 1993). U.S. data from an evaluation of warning labels indicated that 18 months after warning messages were placed on beverage containers, the level of public support for the mandate increased significantly (Kaskutas, 1993). In a Canadian study, public opinions shifted in accordance with a general movement toward less regulatory alcohol policies and increases in availability in most provinces (Giesbrecht and Kavanagh, 1997). Support for alcohol control and intervention policies declined and support for increased availability rose. However, in Alberta residents became less supportive of increased availability and more supportive of alcohol control policies. This shift in opinions occurred following the province's privatization of liquor stores in 1993, which increased density and hours of sale. Similarly, in Finland, following a sharp increase in access to alcohol in the late 1960s, opinions became less favorable toward increased access to alcohol (Ahlstrom and Osterberg, 1992).
Researchers have also found opinion changes without policy changes. In Ontario, 31 % of the general population supported increased taxes on alcoholic beverages in 1990, whereas in 1992 only 18% supported increased taxes (West, Giesbrecht and Pius, 1995). Short-term changes were examined by Room and colleagues in comparing 1989, 1990, and 1991 data for both the U.S. …