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Low Spirits

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Between 1996 and 2000 per capita alcohol consumption in B.C. dropped 9.3 per cent. Spirits consumption dropped about 6.9 per cent in that period – less than beer, but significantly more than wine and coolers. Despite the fact that the population of B.C. is 35 per cent larger than Alberta, Alberta has a larger market share.

To make things right, one of the first changes Spirits Canada would like to see implemented by the government is to allow the sale of spirits by independent retailers, the almost 300 licensee retail stores (LRS) across the province.

"They should do it out of self-interest. It’s better for consumers, it’s better for LRS stores, and that’s better for the province because at the end of the day they’re still getting the tax revenues," says Westcott. "They’ve already allowed LRS stores Sunday openings. A few years ago they decided people were responsible enough to buy alcohol using a credit card. What more does it take to make spirits available is LRS stores? It’s the next logical step."

According to studies, people don’t drink one thing any more, but match their purchases to the occasion – a beer to watch the hockey game, wine for dinner with the girlfriend, spirits at a party. By keeping spirits out of cold beer and wine stores, the Liquor Distribution Branch gives the customer fewer options.

It’s also unfair in the sense that it directs business away from spirit retailers to beer and wine retailers, giving beer and wine companies a competitive advantage. As well, there’s an unspoken message that spirits are somehow more dangerous than beer and wine.

At the same time, anti drinking and driving campaigns are pointing out that it really doesn’t make that much difference. "A beer, a glass of wine and a drink mixed with spirits all have the same amount of alcohol. At the end of the day, a drink is a drink is a drink," says Westcott.

Historically, he says the spirits industry in B.C. has had a harder time than beer or wine and the bureaucracy that hampers the sale and distribution of spirits are 50 years old. It’s a perception that was born in prohibition, in the days of Al Capone, and that has somehow survived until today.

"The population has changed. People don’t drink and drive anymore. People are better educated, more sophisticated, more intuitive – they get it," Westcott says.