Expansion of grocery store wine sales is irresponsible until study of impacts is conducted

March 1, 2016

The BCGEU is calling for a moratorium on the provincial government’s expansion of grocery store wine sales for at least six months. Growing concerns from community health organizations, ominous findings from addictions researchers, and the potential of international trade challenges cast doubt on the practicality of expanding sales.

Some B.C. communities have already taken steps to defer implementation of grocery store wine sales. After testimony from Vancouver Coastal Health and other community groups about possible pitfalls of grocery store sales, the Vancouver City Council voted to delay issuing licenses at their December 16, 2015 meeting.

The union representing BC Liquor Store employees expressed concerned that more widespread availability of alcohol will run counter to BC Liquor Stores’ responsible drinking campaigns.             

“Our members who work at BC Liquor Stores across the province take social responsibility very seriously – they understand the importance of keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors, and are trained to check photo identification and not over serve,” said BCGEU President Stephanie Smith. “As alcohol sales will only be a small part of their job, it’s unlikely that grocery store staff who sell alcohol will prioritize safety as public liquor store employees are trained to do.” 

Reports from the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch show that BC Liquor Store employees are consistently rated the best in the province at refusing to sell alcohol to minors. As grocery stores are not an age-controlled environment, unaccompanied minor customers and under-age cashiers are allowed, expanding sales to additional locations is liable to increase minors’ access to alcohol.

Previous expansions of alcohol access by this government have led to adverse public health outcomes in our communities. In a December 2015 report, the Centre for Addictions Research BC estimated that increased consumption that coincided with reforms in B.C.’s liquor laws in 2014 will result in 655 more alcohol related hospitalizations and 31 more alcohol related deaths each year.

In addition to public health concerns, the government’s decision to limit sales to only B.C. wine could leave our province open to a costly international trade challenge that we’re unlikely to win. A loss on that front could open up sales to a wider range of alcohol products on grocery store shelves, further exacerbating problems stemming from increased access.

The BCGEU represents over 67,000 members in British Columbia, including 3,800 at the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB), including BC Liquor Stores, the wholesale customer centres, distribution centres and head office.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact: Aaron Donovan, Communications – 604-306-9122, aaron.donovan@bcgeu.ca