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24 Hour Licensing

Overseas research on impact of increased hours of trading

The stated aim of the Sale of Liquor Act is:

"...to establish a reasonable system of control over the sale and supply of liquor to the public with the aim of contributing to the reduction of liquor abuse, in so far as that can be achieved by legislative means."

There is evidence from international research to indicate that allowing supermarkets or other off-licensed outlets to sell take-away alcohol 24 hours a day will lead to an increase in local alcohol related harm and other adverse local effects, and is therefore contrary to this aim.

Effects of changes in trading hours

International research reviews have concluded that increases in hours and days for which alcohol is available for sale are consistently related to increases in levels of problems.  Moreover, small changes in hours of trading have significant local impacts (Gruenewald & Stockwell 2000; Edwards et al. 1994).  Gruenewald and Stockwell recommend that local policy-makers take special note of the potential for late night alcohol trading to affect the local environment from a public health and safety point of view.

Past increases in hours of alcohol sales in Michigan, Perth, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Brisbane, Finland, Sweden and Scotland resulted in increases in road death and injuries and/or violence (Smith 1988ab; Peberdy 1991; Baggott 1986).  In Victoria, for example, the change to 10 o’clock closing resulted in an 11.5% increase in casualty traffic accidents, not just a shift in the peak in accidents, despite little effect on overall sales (Smith 1988b).

By the mid 1990s, very late hours of on-licence trading were causing concern in New South Wales and Queensland, and 24 hour licensing was being cut back in the Australian Capital Territory, because of increased intoxication, disorder and violence in the inner cities (Hill 1997).   When 75 Perth hotels, taverns and nightclubs were granted extended trading permits, they had significant increases in assaults, as well as assaults, road crashes and drink driving offences associated with these premises occurring at later hours.  In comparison, premises with normal hours were cited less frequently (Chikritzhs et al. 1997).

In Scotland, relaxation of Scottish licensing hours in 1977 resulted in a 13% increase in alcohol consumption (Baggott 1986).  Before and after surveys showed an increase in drinking by males aged under 45 (Smith 1988a). 

In the late 1980s Edinburgh, as a centre of tourism, granted different late night opening to licensed premises throughout the city.  An evaluation project documented distress to local residents and difficulties in policing.  A widespread campaign of opposition led to earlier, uniform closing times in certain urban zones in 1989.  This resulted in a 30% reduction in drink-related violence and disorder (Institute of Alcohol Studies 1996).

Effects for heavier drinking population groups

Many evaluations of changes in trading hours investigate effects on aggregate level indicators.  The focus of research and international collaborations has now turned to measuring impact on drinking patterns and alcohol related harm for sections of the population, such as young people, heavier drinkers and minority groups (Holder 2000).

Evaluation of the 1988 extension of trading hours in Britain showed that the more heavily people drank, the more likely they were to make use of the later drinking hours; 60%-88% of men exceeding ‘sensible limits’ reported later night drinking in pubs, compared with just 22% of sensible drinkers (Goddard 1991).  

Effects for off-licensed outlets

With regard specifically to bottle stores, a trial closing of Swedish outlets on Saturday (as well as Sundays) resulted in a 10% decline in arrests for drunkenness and also declines in domestic disturbances and outdoor and indoor assaults.  Aggregate sales were not affected.  Saturday closure was made permanent (Olsson and Wikstrom 1984).  Evaluation after one year showed continuing reduced rates of acute alcohol problems but little effect on overall sales .  A similar eight-month Saturday closing by 10 Finnish state-owned bottle stores showed similar improvements in local public drunkenness and violence (Edwards et al. 1994).

California takes a different approach to resolving these problems.  High local levels of violent assault in a study of 74 cities in the Los Angeles area were associated with high accessibility of take-away alcohol.  The correlation of violence with off-licensed outlets, rather than on-licences, was stronger for smaller communities (Schribner et al. 1995).  California law already allowed retail trading to 2 am, but following these research results a moratorium was placed on any new beer and wine off-licences in 48 out of 58 California counties.

Other US and Canadian jurisdictions have adopted the same strategy, reflecting research on local crime levels.   [accidental deletion, added verbally at hearing]

In California, beer and wine only licences proliferated under very cheap licensing fees, relative to all-beverage off-licences.  Beer is the beverage most associated with drink-driving in the US and in Australia, with a particular local association between high alcohol beer sales and drink-driving (Gruenewald and Stockwell 2000) . 

Heavier drinkers, especially drinkers on low incomes, show preference for obtaining their alcohol from outlets that offer lower costs, rather than for example from licensed restaurants or cafes (Gruenewald et al. 1995). 

Earlier hours can reduce binge drinking

The evidence above from Sweden and from Australia is that changes in trading hours or days has little impact on total sales of alcohol.  The Swedish Saturday closing study reported 60% public support in surveys, with 89-90% of state liquor store purchasers saying that they had not felt inconvenienced.  The researchers concluded that routine customers changed their pattern of regular shopping and it was spontaneous purchases that were being disrupted (Olssen & Wikstrom 1984).

Many late night purchasers will be people who wish to continue drinking after running out of alcohol supplies or after leaving on-licensed premises.  These spontaneous purchasers are likely to be the heavier or binge drinkers most associated with alcohol related harm. 

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