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Of course, it becomes a very difficult matter to overcome sparse levels of availability when they are encountered (e.g. In the more remote regions of Western Australia).
Taken together, the issues suggest that the impact of availability policy on the use of alcohol may be as heterogeneous as patterns of availability themselves. The reduction of one outlet in an urban area has significantly different meaning and implications than the reduction of one outlet in a rural outpost. Similarly, the reduction of one outlet on one side of town has different meaning and implications than the reduction of one outlet on another. In this regard, Heather and Stockwell emphasize that, "The outlet in the rural outpost may be the only one for 300 miles. The bar closed at the end of the street may be frequented by most of the neighbourhood, the bar across town rarely used" (218).
For these reasons, although the formulation of economic policies (e.g. beverage taxes, mark-ups, etc.) tend to take place on a more global level (at the levels of states and nations), the formulation of policies to influence physical availability of alcohol can and often does occur at all levels of governance. Thus, it is rarely the case that the price of alcoholic drinks may be influenced at the local level (in Australia this does occasionally occur, often through informal agreements). On the other hand, outlet licensing laws and regulations typically allow input from local communities who wish to restrict the hours and days of sale of alcohol. In the United States, planning and zoning regulations may be used to restrict the distribution of alcohol outlets in community areas and, at the urban level, are the primary determinants of local distributions of availability. At the other extreme, international agreements may restrict labelling and taxation of alcoholic products or ban sales of alcohol altogether. For all these reasons, it is important to be clear about the geographic parameters of a particular alcohol control measure (Heather & Stockwell).
Opponents of more restrictive regulation concerning the availability of alcohol are quick to point out that the pattern of deregulation established in the latter half of the twentieth century has, at least in some instances, been accompanied by declining levels of per capita consumption in some developed countries. For example, Heather and Stock (2004) note that the substantial relaxation of Scotland's liquor licensing laws in 1976 were not associated with increased alcohol consumption in comparison with neighbouring England (these laws permitted trading on Sundays and later trading hours during the week). Deregulation of liquor licensing in Victoria, Australia, in the late 1980s resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of liquor licenses issued but was associated with a decline in overall alcohol consumption (Heather & Stockwell 2004). These issues raise the question as to whether more restrictive liquor licensing regulations reduce alcohol-related problems in different countries.
In some cases, although the answer to the foregoing question is generally "yes" it is also sometimes "no" in other cases depending on the local context (Heather & Stockwell 2004). In this regard, Sheridan (2003) emphasizes that alcohol use is a fundamental part of the culture of many countries and nowhere is this more evident than in Ireland. In this regard, Sheridan advises, "The Irish are more associated with alcohol than most other nations and their fondness for drink is the butt of countless jokes. Tourist advertisements encouraging visitors to Ireland almost always figure a pint or two as part of the campaign. A country with such a reputation, one might expect, would have the most liberal of laws for the consumption of alcohol" (28). Despite this popular perception, though, Ireland has plans to implement more rigid liquor licensing regimens that will help control the public consumption of alcohol in an attempt to reduce the incidence of related automobile accidents and violence. For instance, Sheridan notes that, "Ireland has a love-hate relationship with alcohol. The Irish enjoy a reputation for cordiality: pub culture is the centre of social life and, according to some reports, per capita alcohol consumption is one of the highest in Europe. On the other hand, up to 25 per cent of cases in accident and emergency units in Irish hospitals are alcohol-related, and assaults related to drinking have increased dramatically in recent years" (28).
In response to these disturbing trends, the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, recently described the Irish attitude to drink as "unhealthy" and "sinister." In 2000 there were almost 15,000 reported cases of public intoxication and a similar number for abusive or insulting behaviour. In an attempt to stem the huge growth of these offences, the government updated the Intoxicating Liquor Act that year. The hope was that if opening hours were extended and the drinking regime liberalised, people would moderate consumption. The government underestimated the strength of Ireland's alcohol culture (Sheridan 2003).
As a result, alcohol consumption increased as well as the incidence of violent behaviors required to be resolved by the local police force. In response, a commission was established to examine the problem in detail, taking submissions from all sectors related to the liquor industry. In February 2000, the Commission on Liquor Licensing produced its final report, making a number of recommendations that the government has said it intends to implement. The legal age of consumption will remain 18 but endemic under-age drinking will be tackled by requiring everyone under the age of 21 years to show proof of their age on licensed premises; under-15s will be banned from pubs after 8pm. The ID requirement is intended to catch out older-looking 16-year-olds. The government will also back-pedal on provisions in the 2000 act that allowed premises to remain open until 12.30am on Thursdays (in addition to Fridays and Saturdays). Alcohol abuse is thought to cost the Irish economy up to two billion euros in lost productivity, due in part, the government believes, to people drinking on those late Thursday nights (Sheridan 2003).
Some of the proposals, such as allowing plain-clothes police on to premises to enforce drinks legislation, have been more controversial and angered the Vintners Federation of Ireland. The law that publicans cannot serve people who are "drunk" has been all but unenforceable. Previously, small fines could be levied but now the Irish minister for justice, Michael McDowell, believes pubs should "face closure if they serve drink to the point where they are turning people out on the street plastered" however, as one publican from County Wexford asked on Irish radio: at what point is he responsible for "the person who gets quietly plastered and 'out of their tree'"? (quoted in Sheridan 2003 at 28).
Another controversial measure is that police may start recording customers on video camera as they leave premises, using the tapes as evidence if people are subsequently charged for being drunk. With 40 per cent of fatal road accidents being drink-related and an average of 25 alcohol-spurred assaults per night, the government sees such enforcement as the solution.
Not everyone agrees. They believe a sea change is required in the mentality of Irish people with regard to the "demon drink." Patricia McKenna, a Green Party MEP, believes education is the answer: "In Mediterranean countries young people have access to alcohol from a very early age. In the European Parliament, I never see Mediterraneans sloshed and out of their minds. Unfortunately, closer to home, I do see it" (quoted in Sheridan at 28). Others believe an outright ban on alcohol advertising is the answer. The drinks industry heavily promotes some Gaelic games, and though a voluntary ban operates on the national television station, drinking is heavily promoted in other media (Sheridan 2003). As a result, the Irish government must identify an appropriate balance between a national alcohol strategy and the proper enforcement of current legislation if a more mature attitude in Ireland towards consumption is to be achieved. As Sheridan concludes, "Unfortunately the benefits of any such strategy could take a generation to manifest themselves, and few governments can commit to such a long-term strategy. Meanwhile Ireland will continue to find answers to its problems at the bottom of a glass" (28).
In some countries, decisions concerning the laws that govern licensed premises serving alcohol are left to the discretion of the local communities and states involved. For example, in Australia, the so-called "six o'clock swill effect" has frequently been used in support of more liberal and unrestricted closing hours for licensed establishment and in many states, operating hours for such establishments have been progressively lengthened in recent years. According to Chikritzhs and Stockwell, "During parliamentary debate of the New South Wales Liquor Act in 1982, it was recommended that extended trading be introduced in licensed premises, with the explicit reasoning…[continue]
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