This is a monthly discussion of "issues to watch" in the field of alcohol policy.
More Proposed Changes to Ontario’s Liquor License Act
Nuit Blanche Arts Festival … the World Cup … Summer concerts and beer tents … and now the Royal Wedding … these recent proposed changes are only the latest iteration in a seemingly constant effort to challenge existing alcohol laws.
“Along with free-range imbibing at festivals and other events, the Liberal government wants to allow drinking until 2 a.m. at weddings and fundraisers, and the sale of all-inclusive boozy vacations to tourists,” reported the Globe and Mail.
OPHA President Liz Haugh has recently drawn attention to an increase in alcohol service hours which took place in 1996. This slight increase in service of 1 hour led to a significant increase in injuries presenting to emergency departments (Vingilis et al., 2008). Additionally, the risk of injury such as impaired driving, drowning, falls, fires, suicide, homicide, sexual assault, and other violence has been readily linked to alcohol consumption (Solomon et al., 2009; World Health Organization, 2007).
“It’s a simple equation really,” Dr. Robert Mann of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health pointed out at a recent alcohol policy forum in Toronto in March 2011. A leading researcher in alcohol policy, Dr. Mann, explained the concept in simple terms: “ …If you increase accessibility of alcohol, both consumption rates and related harms will increase as well.”
At this same alcohol policy forum, Dr. Gerald Thomas of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse agreed, noting the enforcement field may end up having the greatest difficulty adjusting and appropriately responding to these proposed changes.
With apparent disregard for public health and safety, the rationale behind these proposed changes is likely to increase government revenue. However, the financial argument is less compelling than it appears on the surface since the provincial government and taxpayers spend more on direct alcohol-related harms than is taken in direct revenue from the control and sale of alcoholic beverages.
There is a profit each year from alcohol of about $1.9-2.0 billion in Ontario but, at the same time, the province spends approximately 2.4 billion in direct hospital and enforcement costs. This is a net loss to the Government of Ontario of approximately $450 million each year. While the benefits are well known and always included in alcohol decision making, the costs are only infrequently calculated and generally ignored in such decisions.
“It’s ludicrous!” exclaimed a passionate Dr. Gerald Thomas at an alcohol policy forum in Toronto in March 2011. “It’s equivalent to preparing accounting statements and only looking at the revenue column.”
These noted cost estimates are conservative as well, as they only include direct costs. Indirect costs are difficult to measure and include harms such as domestic violence and the stress and strain felt by families negatively impacted by alcohol.
“ …we need to look longer term at the possible slippery slope [proposed changes] creates,” urged Liz Haugh in a recent letter to the editor.
As alcohol control measures appear to be sliding, it is important for regional health units to note that the Attorney General’s office is holding consultations on the proposed changes during the month of March. Interested parties are encouraged to contact the office of the Ministry of the Attorney General at the following coordinates: 416-326-2520 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thunder Bay’s New Drug Strategy
The draft Thunder Bay Drug Strategy was released in February 2011 after two years of community consultations, strategy sessions and related meetings. Entitled Roadmap for Change, the strategy proposes 112 actions that contribute to 8 key results. If all actions are taken together, the strategy has great potential to significantly reduce the harm associated with substance use in the Thunder Bay area.
According to the report, “ …Thunder Bay struggles with higher than average rates of drinking, binge drinking, violent crime, and various chronic diseases and injuries, along with other social and medical problems.”
The report continues to describe that Thunder Bay is the highest jurisdiction in Ontario for intoxicated arrests while city youth have a significantly higher incidence of substance use compared to youth in other parts of Ontario, including alcohol use and binge drinking rates.
Building on the Four Pillar approach common in the drug policy field, the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy created a fifth pillar to help address their unique needs – housing.
“Without adequate, affordable and appropriate housing, families are at risk for poor health, including substance use and addiction problems,” says Patty Hajdu, Drug Strategy Coordinator. “The result from creating a ‘housing pillar’ is thirteen specific actions that must be addressed to improve housing options for all citizens of Thunder Bay.”
Response to the strategy by the community of Thunder Bay has been overwhelmingly positive. The Steering Committee has sought feedback from citizens via an on-line survey and by hosting two public consultations.
The final strategy will be presented to Thunder Bay’s City Council for acceptance in April 2011.