After several weeks of foreshadowing, it appears that the provincial government is stepping closer to making major changes to how alcohol is sold in Ontario. One article in the National Post and another in the Toronto Star reveal how big changes are looming.
For one thing, it appears that The Beer Store will be paying into government coffers to maintain their position as the major distributor of beer in this province. This is being called a ‘Franchise Fee’. More aptly, this is a way to get more money from a foreign owned business that has had tremendous market leverage for a long time.
Pair this with the biggest news: it appears that grocery stores will be selling beer and wine in the near future. While this might be a convenience for regular drinkers, there will a profound downside for all Ontarians, as there is a clear, well-researched link between increased access and increased consumption – consumption that leads to alcohol-related harms such as disease, crime, violence, and costs such as hospitalizations and enforcement.
So if alcohol’s reach is going to vastly expand into food stores, how is the Ontario government going to ensure that these harms are minimized?
- Controls on sales and minimum pricing?
- Limitations on placement and visibility within stores?
- Bans on advertising and marketing strategies?
Part of what we know is that young people acclimatize to the ‘normalcy’ of alcohol very quickly. And the younger that people are exposed to it, the more likely they have alcohol-related problems later in life. Putting booze into grocery stores makes alcohol appear as just another everyday thing.
What’s more, the problem isn’t just young people, or impaired driving. It’s that alcohol generates or compounds disease in middle-aged casual drinkers, costing our society millions in lost lives, productivity, and diminished health. And this is within the current system, let alone with the beer beside the bread.