PRC Resources

Alcohol Prices Influence Crime and Crash Rates in British Columbia

A recent study found that increases in the price of alcohol resulted in reductions in alcohol related traffic crashes and crime following increases to alcohol prices in British Columbia, Canada. The study, carried out by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Oakland, California USA, and the Centre for Addictions Research in British Columbia, Canada, along with other institutions in the US and Canada also examined the effects of recent changes in alcohol laws in British Columbia. The study estimated the independent effects of increases in minimum alcohol prices and densities of private liquor stores on traffic safety and crime outcomes in British Columbia, following a change in alcohol control laws that partially privatized the off-premise sale of alcohol.

During the past century, government controls over alcohol sales in North America have been gradually dismantled. In the US, 18 states retain some form of control over the sale and distribution of alcohol. In Canada, only two provinces retain a complete monopoly over retail sales for off-premise consumption. With less state/province control usually comes an increase in the number of alcohol outlets, longer trading hours, and cheaper prices, along with measurable increases in alcohol-related harms. In British Columbia (BC), following a change in the law related to provincial monopoly, between 2002 and 2010 the number of private outlets increased from 543 to 1,045. During this time, minimum retail prices were also increased. For example, the minimum price per liter of distilled spirits was raised by 18% from $25.91 in 2004 to $30.66 in 2009.

A study was conducted to explore associations between minimum alcohol prices, densities of liquor outlets, and crime outcomes across 89 local health areas of British Columbia between 2002 and 2010. Archival data on minimum alcohol prices, per capita alcohol outlet densities, and population characteristics were examined in relation to measures of crimes against persons, alcohol-related traffic violations, and non-alcohol-related traffic violations.

The results showed a positive relationship between alcohol prices, traffic crashes and crime. It was estimated that any 10% increase in provincial minimum alcohol prices would be associated with an 18.81% reduction in alcohol-related traffic violations, a 9.17% reduction in crimes against persons, and a 9.39% reduction in total rates of crime outcomes examined. While the direction of the results was clear, there were wide‘confidence intervals’ around the exact size estimated for these changes.

Densities of private liquor stores were not significantly associated with alcohol-involved traffic violations or crimes against persons in this study. However, previous research on the effects of increases in alcohol liquor outlet density has shown it to be related to alcohol related traffic crashes, some crimes and other outcomes.

Lead author, Dr. Timothy Stockwell commented, “These findings underline the importance of alcohol pricing as an influence on public health and safety. Policy makers should be aware of the importance of alcohol policies, including pricing, in preventing alcohol problems.”

Source: Relationships Between Minimum Alcohol Pricing and Crime During the Partial Privatization of a Canadian Government Alcohol, Tim Stockwell, Jinhui Zhao, Miesha Marzell, Paul Gruenewald, Scott MacDonald, William Ponicki, and Gina Martin, Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs 07/2015; 76(4):628-634.