Date Published: March , 2012
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Author(s): Ingeborg Rossow, Thor Norström.
To estimate the effect on violence of small changes in closing hours for on-premise alcohol sales, and to assess whether a possible effect is symmetrical.
A quasi-experimental design drawing on data from 18 Norwegian cities that have changed (extended or restricted) the closing hours for on-premise alcohol sales. All changes were ≤ 2 hours.
Closing hours were measured in terms of the latest permitted hour of on-premise trading, ranging from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. The outcome measure comprised police-reported assaults that occurred in the city centre between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. at weekends. Assaults outside the city centre during the same time window should not be affected by changes in closing hours but function as a proxy for potential confounders, and was thus included as a control variable. The data spanned the period Q1 2000–Q3 2010, yielding 774 observations.
Outcomes from main analyses suggested that each 1-hour extension of closing hours was associated with a statistically significant increase of 4.8 assaults (95% CI 2.60, 6.99) per 100 000 inhabitants per quarter (i.e. an increase of about 16%). Findings indicate that the effect is symmetrical. These findings were consistent across three different modelling techniques.
In Norway, each additional 1-hour extension to the opening times of premises selling alcohol is associated with a 16% increase in violent crime.
The fact that alcohol consumption plays a significant role for violent behaviour [1,2] and that licensed premises are ‘hot spots’ for such behaviour [2–5], suggests that strategies to prevent heavy drinking in pubs and bars are particularly relevant for curbing violence. Violence in or around licensed premises varies significantly. It tends to occur more frequently in crowded and noisy establishments and when the overall level of intoxication of patrons is high [6,7]. While a number of prevention programmes that aim at reducing sales to intoxicated patrons and violence in bars by training bar staff may have some potential , in this study we will address policies to regulate the availability of on-premise drinking, more specifically in terms of regulation of closing hours.
We collected detailed information on closing hours for on-premise alcohol sales and any changes of these by telephone interviews and e-mail correspondence with key informants and access to administrative documents in the 31 largest cities in Norway. This information comprised whether, and in that case when, any change took effect, the number, type and location of the premises that were affected by the change, the reason(s) for the changes in closing hours that had occurred and other changes in regulations concerning on-premise licences.
In 10 of these cities the closing hours were restricted at one time-point, in three cities/towns the closing hours were extended, and in five cities/towns the closing hours were first extended and then restricted (see Table 2 for details). Moreover, according to our key informants the licensed premises that were affected by changes in closing hours were mainly pubs, bars and nightclubs. There are no indications that there were other changes concerning on-premise licences which were likely to have affected the outcome measure. While stated reasons for extensions of closing hours were either not given or were to serve industry interests, restrictions in closing hours were generally on the grounds that this would curb violence and public nuisance, often on the initiative of the police.
By analysing a series of natural experiments of changes in closing hours for on-premise alcohol sales in Norway, we found that even small changes (≤ 2 hours) appear to have an impact on night-time violence in inner-city areas. A 1-hour change in closing hours for on-premise sales was accompanied by an approximately 20% change in violent crime rates at weekend nights in city centres. These findings are in line with a few previous studies with rigorous research design [20,23]; i.e. Chikritzhs & Stockwell found that a 1-hour extension of closing hours was accompanied by a significant increase in night-time assaults in and around hotels with extended trading permits , and Kypri and co-workers  found that a 1.5–2-hours restriction in closing hours was associated with a significant decrease in night-time assaults in the city centre. In the latter study, the intervention comprised other measures as well, such as lock-out . It should be noted that although the findings point in the same direction, the magnitude of the estimated impact is not comparable across these studies because the interventions and the outcome measures differ. Moreover, the present study adds to the literature by demonstrating symmetry in the impact of changes in closing hours on violence rates; i.e. a 1-hour extension of closing hours appears to have a similar impact on violent crime as a 1-hour restriction of closing hours.
The study was funded by Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research and the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research. The authors have no connections with the tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical or gaming industries or any body substantially funded by one of these organizations.