There is an interesting and perhaps disturbing dissonance in how we look at two sides of alcohol – its availability to our society and its harms. No clearer could this be illustrated than in two recent newspaper articles in the Barrie Examiner, only one day apart online, and in the hard copy of the February 7th edition – both on the front page.
First, we see this article by Cheryl Browne, detailing how certain craft brewers, including a notable one close to home are excited over the prospect of selling beer at convenience stores. As well, according to Browne’s article, a wide segment of the public too is hoping for the ‘convenience’ of purchasing alcohol from corner stores.
But let us not lose sight that this desire is in many ways economically driven, as the Ontario Convenience Store Association is hungry to replace falling tobacco sales, and brewers are looking for alternate ways to gain exposure. In turn, this issue is likely to come up in the next provincial election, as one Party currently in opposition is intending to use popular opinion as leverage.
Then, we see another article that speaks to the harm that befalls our society due to alcohol. The story of a 23-year old woman, killed by a drunk driver, is detailed later on the front page of the Examiner. Impaired driving, sadly, is only one in a long list of harms from alcohol: abuse, addiction, violence, crime, disease.
It is perhaps ironic that these two stories appear so close together, revealing an odd duality in our perceptions. There is a well-established, well-researched relationship between accessibility and alcohol-related harm. As one rises, so does the other, creating tragic costs to our society and to our lives.
As much as many of us may want easier access to alcohol, we should remember that our current model of distribution in Ontario actually helps to protect us, and limits harm. Where other provinces have changed their laws to allow convenience stores to sell alcohol, an increase in harms has been clearly experienced. If the distribution issue arises in our next provincial election, as Ms. Browne’s article implies, let us hope Ontarians know both sides of the story.