ADVANCING HEALTHY COMMUNITIES: ABC, ALCOHOL AND PANDEMIC

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By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies

June 11, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- When alcoholic beverage delivery and curbside pick-up became an option in the East County and the rest of California during the COVID-19 pandemic’s stay-at-home order, it provided licensed on alcohol businesses affected by the order an expanded source of revenue. But whatever benefits the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s (ABC) relaxation of liquor laws had financially for business owners, it negatively impacted alcohol harm prevention efforts to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors and those prone to binge drinking.

The San Diego Association of Governments predicted in a recent report that liquor stores in the county will probably experience about a 20% increase in sales during the pandemic. That means we are drinking more. That means there is more potential for harms to our health.

On a national scale, Nielsen Research reported that a one-week snapshot at the beginning of the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders saw a 55% increase in alcohol sales.

In California, the ABC has relaxed laws restricting sales, allowing for delivery, take out and curbside pick-up. That has raised concerns within the prevention community, including San Diego County’s Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative (BUDI).

Balancing Business Needs

So, how do we balance the needs of businesses with the harms to health caused by over drinking and drinking too young?

BUDI in May co-hosted with Alcohol Justice an interactive town hall for young adults (age 18-25) along the topic of alcohol, new ways of consumption, alcohol marketing, and misinformation during COVID-19.

“Some of the key takeaways from the town hall included that overall alcohol consumption has increased, alcohol marketing has gotten savvy during COVID-19 and that some alcohol companies are taking advantage of the situation,” Iriana Balbian, prevention specialist for BUDI, said.

A resource guide was published and distributed to participants in English and Spanish, which includes how to contact various crisis organizations during and after the pandemic.

ABC Should Take Precautions

The San Diego County Alcohol Policy Panel is urging the ABC to take precautions and monitor home delivery of beer, wine and spirits to make sure minors are not getting access. Checking the ID of delivery recipients will go a long way in keeping alcoholic beverages out of the hands of those who are under 21.

“Many licensees deliver alcoholic beverages to consumers at residences, businesses, and other locations away from the licensed premises,” the ABC said in an advisory released in April. “Although delivery is a privilege most retailers have had for many years with respect to beer and wine, since the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, and the department permitting the delivery of distilled spirits and retailer-packaged alcoholic beverages, there has been a marked increase in deliveries.”

The ABC in a separate advisory acknowledged that delivery to those under-age was an issue during the period of relaxed regulations stating “[t]he Department has recently conducted enforcement actions throughout the state and found significant violations of the law. Most concerning is that minors are routinely able to purchase alcohol through delivery from restaurants.”

The department noted that businesses with alcohol licenses are ultimately liable for these situations and encouraged to use stricter application of identity check policies by delivery services. The ABC has identified this as such a problem that they are in the process of adopting emergency regulations regarding minor decoy operations to assist in identifying where alcohol laws are not being followed, especially when it relates to sales by telephone and online.

Time for Vigilance

Now that school is out for summer, there will be even more opportunities for underage drinking. I’s more important than ever for adults to be vigilant about where and how they are storing alcohol and prescription drugs in the home. Preventing underage drinking and drug abuse is everyone’s responsibility. Delivery businesses, parents and other family members all have a role to play in keeping substances secure from youth during a time when supervising activities in the home may be a challenge.

Alcohol and drug-related problems are preventable. Prevention of alcohol and drug-related problems saves money, saves lives, reduces drain on public services, and cost-effectively protects our health, safety, and quality of life.

If you suspect that a delivery service is not checking ID, you can call the restaurant, bar, or store directly to advise them or you can contact the ABC district office at (619) 525-4064. Online complaints can be filed using a form found on the ABC website.

IPS East County is funded by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, Behavioral Health Services