There have been many studies performed examining the economic effect of alcohol policies in the United States (i.e. taxes and minimum drinking age), however very little has been done regarding the distribution of these alcoholic beverages. Currently in the United States, there is significant variation from state to state regarding how alcohol is sold within their borders. In 12 states, no alcohol is sold in grocery stores; in 6 states, only beer is sold in the grocery stores; in 15 states, only beer and wine are sold in grocery stores; and in 17 states, beer, wine and spirits are sold in grocery stores.
The most common concern is that increased alcohol availability is more dangerous for consumers, in regards to policies related to alcohol distribution and traffic fatalities. Many policy makers believe that the total amount of alcohol per beverage is more relevant than the type of alcohol that is consumed, which is a belief not shared by some. Data from the 48 contiguous United States between the years of 1982 and 2000 indicate that states who consume more wine than any other alcoholic beverage have lower traffic fatalities than states who consume more beer and/or spirits.
There is much debate whether or not to allow the sale of certain types of alcohol in grocery stores in the United States. Lobbyists claim that by introducing wine into grocery stores, there would be increased alcohol consumption and would lead to higher alcohol-related traffic fatalities. On the other hand, state and local government would benefit from having wine sold in grocery stores, as they would be able to collect taxes or other revenue on each bottle purchased. What isn’t clear in the literature to date is whether or not there is a clear link between wine sales in the grocery stores and alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Most of the research to date does not investigate different types of alcohol individually (i.e. beer, wine, spirits), and only examines total alcohol.
Some studies have examined other regulations involving alcohol in the United States, including alcohol taxes, the minimum drinking age, and Sunday sales. In regards to the minimum drinking age, studies have shown that lowering the minimum drinking age would not have a significant effect on traffic fatalities in the United States. In regards to instituting an alcohol tax, some studies have found that an alcohol tax would effectively lead to lower traffic fatalities. In other studies, this response is primarily gender-driven (males) and the effect is relatively small. In regards to selling alcohol on Sundays, studies have found no significant link between allowing sales of alcohol on Sundays and increased traffic fatalities.
One study published recently took these data and examined links between different states policies regarding alcohol sales in grocery stores and the associated consequences (in regards to traffic fatalities). The authors examined how alcohol distribution policies affect the price of the beverages, which was then tied to their influence on total amounts of alcohol consumed, which was finally tied to their effects on traffic fatalities.
The study presented today aimed to address these issues two different ways: 1) by differentiating between state that sell no alcohol, sell beer in grocery stores, sell beer and wine in grocery stores, and sell beer, wine and spirits in grocery stores; and 2) by modeling the effect of grocery store alcohol availability on alcohol prices and consumption, then modeling the effects of total consumption and type of alcohol consumption on traffic fatalities.
The data used for this study was for the 48 contiguous United States for the years 1982-2000. Prices, consumption, and traffic fatality data were collected from various government agencies. Demographics were not ignored, and variables included: income, population living in dry counties, population between 18 and 29 years of age, population over 65 years of age, types of alcohol consumed in populations associated with different religious beliefs, and tourism income.
Data were analyzed by creating mathematical models and accompanying statistics which will not be discussed in this post.
There were several fascinating results of this study:
- In states that sell beer only in grocery stores, prices were 7% higher for wine and spirits.
- In states that sell beer and wine in grocery stores, prices of beer were 5.1% lower, prices of wine were 6.8% lower, and prices of spirits were 4.4% higher.
- In states that sell beer, wine, and spirits in grocery stores, beer and wine prices were lower, but there was no change in spirit prices.
- Higher levels of unemployment were linked to lower prices of wine and spirits.
- Prices were lower in states with a larger population between the ages of 18 and 29 and states with a larger population of people over 65 years old.
- Wine and spirit prices were higher in states with a larger proportion of dry counties.
- States that sell beer and wine in grocery stores have 12.9% higher beer consumption rates and 48.6% higher wine consumption rates.
- States that sell beer, wine, and spirits have higher consumption rates of beer and wine, but lower than that of states that sell beer and wine.
- States that sell beer and wine in grocery stores have a 16.3% higher rate of spirit consumption.
- States that sell beer, wine, and spirits do not change significantly in their consumption rates.
- With states that sell beer and wine in grocery stores, there is an increase in wine consumption.
- There is a positive and significant income effect for wine and spirit consumption (higher income = more wine and/or spirits consumed), whereas there is no significant income effect for beer.
- There is a positive and significant tourism income effect on alcohol consumption (more tourists = higher alcohol consumption).
- There is increased consumption of all types of alcohol in states with higher Catholic populations.
- Increases in total alcohol consumption increase traffic fatalities.
o A 1% increase in alcohol consumption results in a 0.00156% increase in traffic fatalities.
- Higher rates of beer and spirit consumption are associated with higher rates of traffic fatalities.
- Higher rates of wine consumption are associated with lower rates of traffic fatalities.
- States with alcohol available for sale after 10pm had higher traffic fatality rates (this association is highest with youth fatalities).
- Increases in miles traveled are associated with higher traffic fatalities.
- State seat belt laws decrease traffic fatalities.
Suggestions for Policy Changes
There are many fascinating results of this study, but one that is perhaps the most striking is that wine consumption is associated with lower traffic fatalities than beer or spirit consumption. Also, sales of alcohol after 10pm are associated with higher rates of traffic fatalities. One policy change that the authors suggest is that grocery stores should reconsider the time of which alcohol may be sold, and that there should be restrictions on the hours alcohol can be sold to consumers (perhaps, stop selling alcohol at 10pm).
Before the authors could stake any claims that allowing wine into grocery stores would not have a negative effect on traffic fatalities, even though the data show wine consumption is associated with lower rates of traffic fatalities, they offered up results of two model simulations examining exactly what would happen if wine and beer were introduced into stores, and what would happen if wine were introduced in stores already selling beer.
All simulations involved many parameters and mathematical equations which will not be discussed here.
Simulation 1: Introducing beer and wine into grocery stores
- There was a negative and significant effect on beer and wine prices, and a positive and significant effect on spirit prices (i.e. beer and wine prices drop, spirit prices rise).
- Total alcohol consumption increased.
o Beer and spirit consumption decreased, though not significantly.
§ This would thereby increase wine consumption, which based on the results of the actual data would decrease traffic fatalities.
Simulation 2: Introducing wine into grocery stores that already sell beer
- The price of beer, wine, and spirits significantly decreased.
- The price decrease for wine is twice that of the decrease in Simulation 1.
- Total alcohol consumption increased significantly.
o Beer and spirit consumption decreased, though not significantly.
§ The introduction of wine into grocery stores already selling beer would have no significant effect on the rate of traffic fatalities.
Suggestions for Policy Changes
Overall, the results of this study indicate that even though total alcohol consumption was positively correlated with increased traffic fatalities, the type of alcohol consumed significantly affected how this trend occurred. For example, high beer and spirit consumption revealed increases in traffic fatalities, whereas high wine consumption revealed decreases in traffic fatalities. Therefore, the authors claimed (and I agreed) that any argument against selling wine in grocery stores appears to be misguided, and that selling wine in grocery stores may have the opposite effect of what they claim. The idea that wine contains higher alcohol per unit than beer and therefore higher consumption of wine means that traffic fatalities will increase is a false one, and needs to be reevaluated by policy makers.
In summary, the results of the data analysis and simulation analysis indicates that introducing wine in grocery stores will not lead to increased traffic fatalities, and should not be so vehemently lobbied against in state governments throughout the United States. Wine sales in grocery stores will not only not contribute to the traffic fatality rate in the United States, but could represent a new source of income (via taxes or other fees) for state governments.
There is a lot of talk about with this subject, more than which there is space to discuss in a single blog post. I’d love for you all to continue the conversation by leaving comments below (click on the comments tab at the end of this post and leave your thoughts)!
Source: Rickard, B.J., Costanigro, M, and Garg, T. 2011. Regulating the availability of beer, wine, and spirits in grocery stores: Beverage-specific effects on prices, consumption and traffic fatalities. American Association of Wine Economists Working Paper 95.
*I’d like to thank one of my readers for suggesting this paper for me. If you find a paper you’d like me to present to my readers, please let me know: Becca@academicwino.com/
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!