Expanding liquor sales to grocery and convenience stores in Kansas could lead to more underage drinking, according to a new report from the Kansas Health Institute.
The report, called a health impact assessment, is designed to give policymakers information about the potential health consequences of expanded liquor sales.
KHI’s second statewide health impact assessment says allowing more outlets to sell alcohol may lead to increased consumption by underage drinkers. Tatiana Lin, who leads the institute’s health impact assessment work, said expanding liquor sales to grocery and convenience stores could make alcohol more available to teens wanting to try it.
“In convenience and grocery stores, there’s just not the same level of surveillance and enforcement that is in liquor stores,” Lin says.
Studies in other states indicate it’s easier for young people to steal alcohol when sales are expanded beyond liquor stores, she says.
Tom Palace, executive director of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association of Kansas, says enforcing laws already on the books is the way to prevent underage drinking. He says consumers want to be able to buy liquor at grocery and convenience stores, which already sell beer, lottery tickets and tobacco products.
“The consumer wants to buy these products because it’s more convenient,” Palace says. “You have competition in the market, and when you have competition the consumer wins.”
Health concerns aside, most of the opposition to expanded liquor sales is coming from people who want to protect liquor retailers from competition, Palace says.
A bill that would have allowed liquor sales in grocery and convenience stores was introduced during the 2014 session but died in committee.
The health impact assessment analyzed eight health issues related to the bill: alcohol consumption, youth alcohol consumption, driving under the influence (DUI) arrests, alcohol-related traffic accidents, alcohol-related traffic deaths, alcohol-related traffic deaths among youth, crime and sexually transmitted diseases.
According to the report, expanded liquor sales may cause a slight increase in overall consumer consumption, but that is not likely to result in a higher number of DUI arrests or alcohol-related traffic accidents. However, there may be a slight increase in some types of crime - such as domestic child abuse and violence - and in STDs.
The report includes recommendations to counter these effects, including limits on days and hours of alcohol sales, increased sobriety checkpoints and stronger enforcement of laws prohibiting alcohol sales to underage customers.
Editor’s note: The Kansas Health Institute is the parent organization of the editorially independent KHI News Service.
Bryan Thompson is a reporter for Kansas Public Radio.