Alcohol Retail Outlet Density Policy in Utah

At a Glance:

Location: Utah

Date: 2013

Vital Condition: Basic Needs for Health and Safety

Determinants of Health: substance use, substance use

Research Methods: Qualitative research, Literature review

Community Types: urban, suburban

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During the 2014 legislative cycle, Utah legislators intended to revisit alcohol regulations that many stakeholders felt were outdated. These included a limit on the number of alcohol retail outlet licenses issued according to population quotas. Some stakeholders were concerned that lowering the population quotas required for each license would lead to an increase in the number of available licenses, resulting in more alcohol consumption. With guidance from Pat Bird of the Utah County Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Treatment, a team of public health graduate students and key stakeholders collaborated to produce a rapid health impact assessment (HIA) during Fall 2013 in time for legislators to consider the key health impacts of their decisions.

The study found that the proposal under consideration would have significant negative impacts on health and the economy (See Table 6, page 22 of the report). 

The authors recommended that legislators:

  • Maintain existing alcohol density quotas and license limits.
  • Require businesses applying for club licenses to operate under more restrictive tavern or restaurant license before receiving a club license.
  • Increase alcohol excise taxes. Strong evidence shows that increased taxes have been the most reliable means of encouraging the responsible consumption of alcohol.
  • Maintain restrictions on the days, hours, and places that alcohol is sold.

The HIA team identified two issues for further study:

  • Evaluate potential waiting periods to obtain club licenses (e.g. 6 months, 1 year).
  • Determine the number of compliant businesses deterred from opening  alcohol retail establishments due to alcohol density limits.


Ultimately, Utah’s key alcohol policies remained relatively consistent with the findings of this HIA, although the study’s influence on the legislature’s decision is unknown.

This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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