The Ontario Convenience Store Association (OCSA) continues to ignite debate on the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores. Yet again, the OCSA is suggesting that if they provide such service (and collect the profits) it would be in the best interest of Ontarians.
Interestingly, in a Globe and Mail article from July 7th, the author makes reference to an OCSA-commissioned research study that supports this position. One of the flaws in their arguments around profitability is that the model is based on encouraging people to consume more alcohol.
Is encouraging Ontarians to drink up for the sake of profits what we want to see? Is alcohol an economic product to be encouraged? These methods are synonymous with motivating smokers to buy cheap tobacco and light up because we need more tax revenue… and who is “we” anyways? Who really is profiting?
Permitting the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores would increase access to alcohol considerably. Research shows that increased density of alcohol outlets is associated with greater consumption and increased alcohol-related harms. In fact, provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta, which have shifted to privatized or semi-privatized alcohol sales systems, have seen an increase in alcohol-related harms in the form of violence, disease and even death. This is a direct result of increased access and availability through a privatized system, whose objective is profit.
The cost of alcohol-related harm in Ontario alone in 2002 was $5.3 billion due to direct costs in healthcare and enforcement, and indirect cost from reduced productivity. These costs were $456 million more than the total income generated from alcohol sales and taxes in Ontario.
Given that Ontario taxpayers pay the costs of alcohol-related harms, should the Ontario goverment not attempt to offset some of these costs to health care and enforcement? More importantly, should they not explore how to mitigate the harms associated with alcohol? Is there a perfect system? Maybe not, but we should at least strive to have measures in place that put health and safety before profits.