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Ontario needs a provincial alcohol strategy, say leading health organizations

September 21, 2015

Toronto – A coalition of leading health organizations is calling on the Ontario government to develop a comprehensive alcohol strategy to address the health harms of alcohol.

The planned introduction of beer sales to grocery stores will increase alcohol availability across the province. Evidence from other jurisdictions shows that expanding alcohol availability leads to increased consumption and related harms.

“A direct relationship between increased alcohol availability and greater health and social harm is well established,” says Dr. Catherine Zahn, CAMH President and CEO. “We need coordinated leadership and a comprehensive strategy to ensure that health is not an afterthought when it comes to alcohol policy.”

Other provinces, including Nova Scotia and Alberta, have alcohol strategies in place. Ontario has been a national leader in a number of alcohol policy areas but we are beginning to fall behind.

While the sale of alcohol plays an important role in Ontario’s economy, the costs far exceed the revenues. Alcohol has recently been shown to increase the risk of several types of cancer. The annual costs of alcohol-related health care, law enforcement, corrections, lost productivity, motor vehicle collisions, injuries, and social problems, are estimated at $5.3 billion annually – well above the alcohol revenue accruing to the province.

“Alcohol is a powerful drug with health consequences for individuals, families, and communities. Rather than normalizing alcohol sales like it would for any other commodity, the government must ensure it is doing everything it can to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians, ” says Doris Grinspun, Chief Executive Officer of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), adding that “RNs, NPs and nursing students expect the province will consult broadly with organizations to deal with the inevitable harms that come with easy access to alcohol.”

Health-focused, evidence-based policies can help mitigate harms caused by alcohol consumption. The most effective population-level approaches include: socially responsible pricing, limits on the number of retail outlets and hours of operation, and restrictions on advertising.

Camille Quenneville, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario is clear: “For individuals living with mental health conditions, the impact alcohol can have on their lives can be debilitating and tragic. Now is the time for the government to create a comprehensive provincial alcohol strategy to improve the health of all Ontarians.”

When implemented alongside more targeted interventions like drinking and driving countermeasures, enforcement of the minimum legal drinking age, and screening and brief intervention in the primary care setting, these approaches have consistently been shown to help reduce alcohol-related problems.

“Alcohol is a public health issue and as such, we welcome a provincial alcohol strategy for Ontario that is developed through a public health lens,” said Rita Notarandrea, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and a Co-Chair of the National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee. “We are pleased to offer our evidence-informed resources and expertise to assist the Government of Ontario in developing a comprehensive strategy, just as we have guided the Government of Manitoba and others in building strategies to control alcohol availability, improve awareness of low risk drinking guidelines and promote a culture of moderation to reduce the harms associated with alcohol.”

“An approach to alcohol policy that prioritizes public health and considers the costs associated with alcohol consumption is critical to the health and well-being of Ontarians,” said Larry Stinson, President of the Ontario Public Health Association. Our organizations believe that a provincial alcohol strategy is the best way to achieve this goal.

Canadian Centre on Substance Use
Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada
Ontario Public Health Association
Registered Nurses Association of Ontario

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