One positive that came out of the pandemic was the relaxed relationship between bylaw enforcement and alcohol — off-sales became the norm and drinking in parks became more accepted.
But one UVic expert is saying it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
This week, Vancouver launched its own alcohol in parks pilot project, and in light of that researchers at UVic’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) reported that drinking in public is actually bad for public health in the long run.
Led by director Dr. Tim Naimi, the evidence-based, public-health-oriented report is a guide for municipalities as they consider allowing drinking in public outdoor spaces.
Below, Dr. Naimi shares his opinion on why or why not the above is a good idea:
Why isn’t it a good idea to allow drinking in public spaces like parks and beaches?
According to Dr. Naimi, the negative physiological health effects of alcohol, the second-hand effects of alcohol, like violence, and the taxation it puts on municipalities to monitor alcohol-consumption and waste, are the guiding factors in not allowing drinking in public.
How will allowing alcohol consumption in these kinds of public spaces help restaurants and pubs?
Because hospitality-based businesses including restaurants and pubs have taken such a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing drinking in public spaces could hurt them, according to Dr. Naimi.
He said that because people who want to drink outside their homes could now purchase the cheaper alcohol from liquor stores and just drink in municipal spaces instead of patronizing restaurants and pubs, it would further divert business away from those establishments.
Why is it important to provide this guidance on drinking in public municipal spaces now?
“There’s been a sense of urgency to make things better for people in response to the pandemic. I think allowing alcohol consumption in public spaces like parks, beaches and city plazas is a well-intentioned but misguided effort to do that,” said Dr. Naimi.
“We should remember the COVID-19 pandemic will hopefully be ending soon, and the decisions that we rush into now may become permanent fixtures in our social landscape—and will not necessarily change them for the better when it comes to community health outcomes.”
Overall, Dr. Naimi and the report suggests not to permit consuming alcohol in public, but if municipalities decide to go that route, they have recommendations:
- Governments engagement with citizens.
- Keep these initiatives temporary and/or seasonal rather than permanent.
- Keep drinking to restricted times of day and areas within the municipal property.
- Legal advice about their municipal liability.
- Municipalities should encourage people to purchase food and alcohol from nearby restaurants, pubs and food trucks.
- Increase budgets for extra costs incurred by governments such as for bylaw enforcement or trash pickup.