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Study Links Private Alcohol Sales to More Deaths

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A study led by a researcher at the University of Victoria in British Columbia found a strong correlation between an increase in private liquor stores and alcohol-related deaths, Reuters reported Jan. 31.

The study was conducted in British Columbia between 2003 and 2008, when the Canadian province's 89 health areas partially privatized alcohol sales and the number of private liquor outlets increased by 40 percent. Researchers looked for relationships between the number of alcohol-related deaths, the density of alcohol outlets, and the proportion that were privately owned.

According to the study abstract, investigators found that “the total number of liquor stores per 1000 residents was associated significantly and positively with population rates of alcohol-related death.” Every additional liquor outlet per 1,000 people resulted in a 27.5 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths. 

Tim Stockwell of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who led the study, said that although it does not prove that privatizing liquor stores is to blame for the rise in alcohol-related deaths, it does show a “strong, robust relationship.” He said that Canadian provinces should “think twice” before allowing more privatization of alcohol sales.

Dr. Rebecca Goldin, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, questioned its conclusions. She said the study also showed that for every additional government-owned store in a specific area, the number of alcohol-related deaths dropped by 57 percent.

“I think this calls the authors' conclusions into question,” she said, because more stores would mean more alcohol sold, and would be expected to result in more alcohol-related deaths, no matter who owned the stores.

Stockwell said that private stores could drive up alcohol deaths compared to government-owned stores because they are able to cut prices to drive demand. Furthermore, he said, secret-shopper programs have shown that private stores do not check IDs as frequently as government-owned stores do.

The study, “Impact on alcohol-related mortality of a rapid rise in the density of private liquor outlets in British Columbia: a local area multi-level analysis,” was published online in the journal Addiction on Jan. 18, 2011.

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