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Sip-and-shop events could be breaking law

Responsible consumption: Juan Wolffe, chairman of the Liquor Licensing Authority (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Stores that organise sip-and-shop events could be breaking the law, the head of the Liquor Licensing Authority warned yesterday.

Juan Wolffe, chairman of the LLA, said the events, at which businesses invite customers to have a drink while shopping, are not covered by licensing laws.

Mr Wolffe said: “The alcohol is clearly an inducement to get people to come to the shop to buy items in the store.

“That is not covered by the Liquor Licensing Act, therefore any store that engages in that activity could be in contravention of the Act. They are not licensed premises.

“There is also the argument they are allowing people to drink in a public place which, in and of itself, is an offence.” Mr Wolffe added there was little control over how much alcohol was consumed at shopping events.

He said that often people serving the alcohol had not gone through the mandatory Tips course for bartenders and were not trained to deal with people who had too much to drink.

Mr Wolffe added: “People may make the argument that they have held these events and nothing happens, but maybe it’s only that nothing happens inside the store.

“We don’t know whether these individuals are leaving and getting on their bike or in their car and driving.”

He said that licensed premises were required by law to monitor their customers and their behaviour. But Mr Wolffe said that, although store events where alcohol was served were not covered by licensing law, the authority was prepared to look at changes that would allow them to continue.

He added: “We are simply carrying out what our duty is. We are not trying to be obstructionist, but we need to make sure that any sale or consumption is responsible.

“The LLA has very much been in talks with the Attorney-General about extending licences so we can have these kinds of activities take place, but until that happens we are going to follow the law.” Mr Wolffe also warned that some wholesalers have run events where they sold alcohol direct to customers as if they were retailers — which was also illegal.

He said. “They will have an event where they invite members of the public to come to their warehouse to buy alcohol. That is not lawful.

“When a warehouse or wholesale place applies for a liquor licence, it’s under the assumption that it’s for wholesale distribution, not for the wholesaler to effectively turn into a liquor store.”

Mr Wolffe added that liquor stores have different requirements for licences from the wholesale sector.

Mr Wolffe said: “When we grant the licence, we are under the impression that sort of activity will not take place. We rely on that information.

“If the business model changes, then we may need to look again to decide if they should have a licence.”

The chairman said the authority had also noticed events like concerts and recitals that offer alcohol with the price of the ticket without having a liquor licence.

Mr Wolffe explained: “Some people seem to think that is permissible because they are not selling alcohol by way of money changing hands at the event.

“We want to make it clear that it is not lawful under the Liquor Licensing Act because it is an indirect sale of alcohol.

“We will be very much clamping down on that sort of activity as well.”

Mr Wolffe said another problem that often arose during holiday periods was the illegal sale of rum swizzle.

He said: “Persons cannot under the law make up their own alcohol and sell it, but you see it all the time on Facebook and Instagram, people selling alcohol.

“That is unlawful, and the authority has a responsibility to see that it does not happen because there are no controls in place.”