The world over the alcohol industry pushed to rapidly expand on-demand alcohol delivery since the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United Kingdom, as in many countries, the existing alcohol policies are not up-to-date to cope with the new trend. This has lead to an increase in alcohol harm.

Movendi International has closely followed the rapid expansion of the on-demand alcohol delivery sector, specifically during COVID-19. Harm due to alcohol delivery has been reported across the world including California, USA, Australia, Kenya, West Bengal, India, Thailand, and Poland.

A similar situation is unfolding in the United Kingdom where the aggressive expansion of on-demand alcohol delivery during the pandemic is causing serious concern over rising alcohol problems.

Civil society working for preventing and reducing alcohol harm have therefore called for a review of and update to current alcohol policy measures to better regulate and curb on-demand alcohol delivery.

A recent study by Wrexham University on alcohol delivery in the UK found that,

  • age-verification measures used by suppliers and delivery firms were weak,
  • online checks easy to get around, and
  • couriers were manually checking the age of fewer than half of alcohol purchasers.

Improving outdated licensing laws

In response to these findings of a flawed alcohol delivery system, Alcohol Change UK calls for an urgent update of licensing laws. They were drafted before the advent of round-the-clock deliveries of alcohol and are apparently outdated now.

The current laws have simply not caught up with the on-demand alcohol delivery. While the law states it is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18 with alcohol delivery it is unclear whether age verification should happen at point of sale, point of delivery or both. To reduce harm age verification at both points would be a necessity with age verification upon delivery being a must.

Given that the Licensing Act was written when online alcohol sales were in their infancy, it’s time for a review and for some clear guidance from the UK government on what kind of age-verification they expect to see,” said Andrew Misell, director for Alcohol Change UK in Wales, as per The Guardian.

Andrew Misell, Director, Alcohol Change UK in Wales

The easier it is to access alcohol the more alcohol-related harm increases. According to the licensing law it is prohibited to sell alcohol to minors and already intoxicated persons. However, with delivery which is offered contact-less due to the ongoing pandemic there are not sufficient methods for age verification and to check whether the person is already intoxicated. As the above research showed age verification often fails in practice.

Addressing safeguarding issues and protecting vulnerable people is more important right now, given that research shows risky [alcohol use] has increased under lockdown,” said Dr Katherine Severi, chief executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, as per The Guardian.

Dr Katherine Severi, Chief Executive, Institute of Alcohol Studies

Life or death: the unethical practices of alcohol delivery firms

On-demand alcohol delivery can be life threatening in the most serious cases. For example the O’Connor’s have a 21 year old son who struggles with an alcohol use disorder. He has been hospitalized several times due to alcohol intoxication, including an instance where he had 12 seizures in a day. For young O’Connor one more seizure could mean death. His mother and father have been asking Uber Eats to stop delivering alcohol to their son but the firm has claimed they can not do anything without the son’s permission due to privacy issues. Uber Eats couriers have left alcohol hidden around the house for the son to find.

Uber Eats referring to the O’Connor case have said they are “investigating these reports”, but no concrete action has been taken yet.

Age verification on delivery is weak. Most couriers are working zero-hour contracts, they are in a rush, they just don’t have the time to be bothered,” said Professor Vic Grout, co-author of the Wrexham University study, as per The Guardian.

Professor Vic Grout, Wrexham University and co-author of the study

Studies conducted in other countries investigating on-demand alcohol delivery and issues around age verification or checking if the recipient is already intoxicated have shown similar results.

In May, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control found that third-party services were routinely delivering to underage alcohol users with restaurants and bars doing so 25% of the time and apps doing so 80% of the time.

Australian research published this year found that 71% of users of on-demand alcohol services, including Uber Eats, were already intoxicated when they received their alcohol orders and a third received their orders with no ID checks for age verification.

A home office spokesperson has said the government takes underage alcohol use “very seriously”. The question is whether it is taken seriously enough to initiate urgent policy action before more children and youth are put in danger.

Increased harm during COVID-19

Harm from online alcohol sale and on-demand alcohol delivery adds to the existing burden of COVID-19. The pandemic has increased stress and anxiety among many people and Big Alcohol has exploited this to market alcohol as a coping mechanism, despite clear advice by the WHO to not use alcohol to cope.

Movendi International reported an IAS research that showed there were mixed results regarding alcohol use during COVID-19 in the UK. Some surveys showed increased alcohol use and some showed decreased alcohol use during COVID-19. Overall data showed that, where the proportion of people consuming less alcohol during lockdown has been reported, this is often similar to or exceeding the proportion of people consuming more alcohol during lockdown.

New data, reported by iNews*, suggests that alcohol use has increased in the UK during the pandemic and lockdown.

  • More than a fifth (22%) of people in the UK – around 11.7 million – are consuming more alcohol since the lockdown began. 
  • This figure increases to two in five (38%) for people on leave of absence from work, and a third (33%) for parents with at least one child under 18.

This data shows that people are resorting to alcohol as “coping” tool with the stress, anxiety and insecurity of the pandemic. The alcohol industry is promoting their products in exactly that fashion, putting people in harm’s way.

Online alcohol sale and delivery makes alcohol more available to people during the pandemic thereby, exacerbating existing alcohol harm by increased consumption during this crisis. It is now more than ever necessary to take urgent policy action regarding online alcohol sale and on-demand delivery.

For further reading from the Newsfeed

Australia: Alcohol Delivery Apps Fuel Harm

As alcohol delivery services spread across Australia, the public health community fears an increase in alcohol harm.

California, USA: On-Demand Alcohol Delivery Apps Harm Youth

The government fo California says on-demand delivery apps are driving a surge in alcohol deliveries to minors during COVID-19.

Kenya: Home Delivery Fuels Alcohol Harm

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online alcohol sale and home delivery is increasingly fueling alcohol harm in Kenya.

West Bengal, India: Struggle Between Public Health or Big Alcohol Profits

The state of West Bengal in India is currently locked in a struggle between choosing public health or Big Alcohol profits. Amidst existing alcohol harms and the high cost of alcohol to the community, alcohol has been made more available through on-demand home delivery initiated during the coronavirus pandemic. Now the government is struggling with Big Alcohol over plans to raise alcohol taxes.

*This article was updated on September 24, 2020 with new information from inews.

Source Website: The Guardian