Closing liquor stores in poor communities will improve public health

Regarding your article about the city's plan to strip some liquor stores of their licenses, many studies have shown that communities with greater densities of alcohol outlets have higher levels of drinking, unintentional injuries and violence ("Baltimore to strip some liquor stores of licenses in rezoning effort," June 18).

Specifically, published data about Baltimore show not only an inequitable distribution of liquor stores in predominantly African-American and low-income communities but also significant associations between the presence of liquor stores and the risk of health-related problems.

Despite these findings, the debate continues over whether the liquor stores are causing the problems or are merely a symptom of increased social disintegration of communities.

Consider the case of the pioneering epidemiologist John Snow, who remedied England's cholera outbreak in 1854 after he identified a strong association between cases of the disease and the use of a specific water pump on Broad Street in London. He persuaded the local government to remove the handle from the pump, thereby rendering the water inaccessible. This single action resolved the outbreak, saving thousands of lives.

We have a similar opportunity in Baltimore. Based on residents' responses at the Health Department's Neighborhood Health Profiles meetings, City Council hearings on alcohol-related legislation and liquor board hearings, there appears to be a growing consensus that people want fewer liquor stores in their communities. The proposed rezoning effort will do just that — reduce the number of liquor stores in residential communities while giving business owners the opportunity to relocate to more appropriate locales.

This rezoning effort is a testament to how Baltimore is embracing a public health approach to improve community health. We anticipate that very similar to the Broad Street pump, removing this "handle" from the community will produce immediate and sustainable results.

Debra Furr-Holden and David H. Jernigan, Baltimore

The writers are associate professors at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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