Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Alcohol Distribution Reforms and School Proximity to Liquor Sales Outlets in New Brunswick

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Alcohol Distribution Reforms and School Proximity to Liquor Sales Outlets in New Brunswick

Article excerpt

In the past decade, there has been a strategic shift towards alcohol-related trade liberalization in both developed and developing countries that has led to the deregulation of liquor control policies and the development of pro-market practices in the alcohol sector.1,2 In the past two years, several Canadian provinces, such as New Brunswick, Ontario and British Columbia, have expanded the distribution of alcohol to allow the sale of wine and/ or beer in private agency and grocery stores that are not owned or operated by the provincial liquor corporation.3-6

Greater alcohol availability has been identified as a significant public health concern because of the increased consumption and associated alcohol-related harms that result from expanding the places where liquor can be sold in the community.7 Previous research has found a strong relationship between liquor outlet proximity, alcohol availability, and higher rates of consumption and alcohol-related harms, such as premature mortality and risk of injury, among youth and adults.8-10 Youth have been found to be especially vulnerable to increased alcohol availability as a result of early exposure to alcohol-related marketing and the normalization of alcohol consumption, which are both strong predictors of substance abuse problems in adulthood.11-13 Off-sales locations such as agency and grocery stores have been found to be problematic because of poor controls over the sale of alcohol to minors and the availability of large quantities of liquor that can be freely consumed in the community.14-16 Previous research has shown that outlet density and proximity are important determinants of alcohol consumption among young people.8,17,18 This has been attributed to underage youth obtaining alcohol from off-sales locations with less stringent selling practices, and the demonstrated relationship between outlet density and exposure to illicit drugs and violence.8,9,15,19,20

Despite the known relationship between outlet density, proximity, and alcohol-related harms, there has been limited research completed on how recent changes to liquor policy will affect exposure to, and the availability of, alcohol products in Canadian communities. New Brunswick is an ideal case study to examine liquor policy reform measures and access to alcohol products because of modifications to the distribution of alcohol in recent years, and the high rates of alcohol abuse and binge drinking among youth and adults.21 The criminal justice, societal, and health care costs associated with alcohol abuse in New Brunswick are the highest in Canada, equalling $597 per resident.22 Among young people, 43.9% of students in Grade 12 reported binge drinking in the previous month.21

In October 2016, the Province of New Brunswick began allowing the sale of wine in selected grocery stores with the goals of improving customer convenience and increasing the revenue generated through the provincial liquor board (NBLiquor).4,23 As in other Canadian provinces, New Brunswick's alcohol retail system functions within a governmental monopoly, and its operations are monitored by the Ministry of Public Safety and the Solicitor General.24 NB-Liquor monitors the sale of alcohol to minors through "mystery shopper" tests in conjunction with liquor inspectors and local law enforcement; however, the findings and impact of this internal monitoring system are unclear.24 To date, an unknown number of grocery stores have been permitted to sell wine in addition to the initial six pilot store sites.25 Prior to the sale of alcohol in grocery stores, only agency stores (N = 110) were allowed to sell spirits, beer and wine in addition to the existing NB-Liquor stores (N = 43). The purpose of this project was to evaluate how these changes are distributed across urban and rural communities and low- and high-income neighbourhoods. The objectives were to 1) estimate the population living close to alcohol outlets before and after liquor distribution reforms, 2) identify communities or regions that would be more or less affected, and 3) determine whether expanding access to alcohol products would reduce school proximity to retailers. …

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