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Alcohol to-go sales policies at on-premise drinking establishments near large public US universities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AIMS: Sweeping policy changes during the COVID-19 pandemic increased alcohol availability through permitted to-go sales, potentially posing unique risks to college students. While to-go sales may make binge drinking more convenient, little remains known about these practices. Therefore, this study aimed to assess whether drinking establishments' to-go sales practices are associated with their other operational practices and state policy.

METHOD: This cross-sectional analysis included 221 randomly selected bars, nightclubs, and restaurants within two miles of a large public university. Telephone interviews assessed establishment practices, and the Alcohol Policy Information System provided state alcohol to-go laws. Regression models tested whether establishment to-go sales practices were associated with their business practices (logistic regression) and state policy (generalized estimating equations).

RESULTS: Nearly one-half (44.8%) of drinking establishments sold alcohol to-go. Establishments with higher vodka prices had nearly 30% higher odds of selling spirits to-go (aOR = 1.29) and establishments offering happy hours specials had more than twice the odds of selling beer (aOR = 2.22), wine (aOR = 2.53), and spirits to-go (aOR = 2.60). Additionally, establishments that implemented physical distance requirements had higher odds of selling wine to-go (aOR = 3.00). State to-go laws were associated with higher odds of selling wine (aOR = 3.99) and spirits to-go (aOR = 5.43) in the full sample and beer to-go (aOR = 4.92) in urban counties.

CONCLUSIONS: Establishments that sell alcohol to-go tend to engage in other practices designed to drive sales. Evaluations of alcohol to-go sales laws on risky consumption among priority populations, including college students, are urgently needed to inform decisions about how to appropriately regulate sales.

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