Liquor-store sales linked to violent assaults

By Ewen Callaway If there’s a queue at the liquor store, keep an eye out for trouble. A new analysis of health records and sales receipts from alcoholic drinks shows that hospitalisations for assault go up in direct relation to increased alcohol sales near the victims’ homes. By comparing local booze sales the day before a serious assault with sales the previous week, a team of Canadian epidemiologists calculated that an extra 1000 litres of alcohol sales significantly increases the chances of an assault by 13%. One thousand litres amounts to a doubling of sales for the average store, says Joel Ray at the University of Toronto, whose team investigated government records from Ontario. Researchers have previously attempted to measure the link between alcohol sales and assaults in bars, but studies often relied on self-reporting and were likely to underestimate inebriation. To get better measure of consumption, Ray’s team tracked sales in Ontario’s nearly 600 state-run liquor stores, which account for all spirits, most wine, and about a fifth of the beer sold in the province. The Ontario government records every drop of alcohol sold. “We have a true bird’s-eye view of all sales,” he says. For each attack severe enough to put someone in the hospital, Ray’s team recorded alcohol sales at the store nearest the victim’s home on the day before the attack. The researchers compared those sales with the store’s receipts the same day of the previous week to account for weekend binges. By crunching the numbers for more than 3000 assaults over a 3-year period, the team found, not surprisingly, perhaps, that more booze equalled more brawls. One thousand extra litres of alcohol sold upped the chances of an assault by 18% for men, 21% for youths aged 13 to 21, and 19% for people living in cities. If a store sold an extra 1000 litres of vodka, tequila and other spirits, the chances of an assault jumped by a quarter, they found. The researchers could not determine whether any single assault involved drinking, nor did they measure bar sales or beer purchased from other stores. Such omissions probably underestimate the connection between alcohol sales and fights, says Russell Bennetts, an economist at the Institute of Alcohol Studies in London, UK. “Thirteen per cent [the increase averaged between rural and urban areas] was without capturing beers sales, and you would expect beer sales to contribute somewhat to an increase in violence,” he says. Though no teetotaller (“I absolutely do drink wine and beer”), Ray says that governments ought to equate excessive drinking to drink driving, since both increase the risk of injury for the drinker and for others. The study may also throw water on efforts to privatise liquor sales in Ontario in the name of profits. A 2005 report argued that the government’s monopoly on booze sales left “untapped revenue on the table.” Journal reference: PLoS Medicine (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050104) More on these topics:
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