This is a monthly discussion of "issues to watch" in the field of alcohol policy.
Local alcohol policy work proves lengthy, yet worthwhile
September proved busy months for two Ontario communities working on alcohol policy. Fresh off a powerful and motivating lecture at APN’s annual Alcohol: No ordinary commodity forum, Dr. Gerald Thomas of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse was welcomed by both Kingston and the Grey Bruce Area to keynote separate community forums. Community leaders, local government, post secondary institutions, enforcement, and the health field were all in attendance to learn about alcohol related harms experienced in the community along with strategies to address them.
In Kingston, Dr. Thomas dispelled common myths about alcohol and presented community-based options for creating a culture of moderation regarding alcohol use.
“It’s a long process,” warned Dr. Thomas referring to efforts to change the culture of a community. "[It is] going to take a lot more time, and it needs to include a lot more people, be well thought out and include action over time … [Efforts need to] be sustained …".
Cathy Edwards knows this. Ms. Edwards works at Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington Public Health in the area of substance misuse prevention, and with colleagues, founded the Safe and Sober Alliance – a community group of over 30 agencies including police, fire, and education who are concerned with health and safety issues in the Kingston and surrounding area.
“As Queen’s University continues to move forward in implementing the Coroner’s recommendations around alcohol following the deaths of 2 students last year, it is important for the community to step up and support these efforts,” noted Ms. Edwards after the Kingston community forum. “We need to change the environmental conditions that promote heavy alcohol consumption both on and off campus. To do that, both the public and our decision makers need to have all the information when weighing the costs and benefits of any alcohol policy. Dr. Thomas’ presentation provided just that.”
In Grey Bruce, Dr. Thomas spoke to nearly 100 community leaders from a cross-section of sectors including Chambers of Commerce, municipal and provincial politicians, First Nations groups, local media, and justice and probation agencies, among others.
Dr. Thomas’ comments were similar to those in Kingston, noting that strategies to reduce alcohol harm exist and that work on issues related to the normalization of alcohol in society needs to occur.
"We create a lot of social space for the misuse of alcohol, a lot of tolerance for intoxication as a form of recreation, especially for young people …” Dr. Thomas said.
He also impressed upon the audience the financial argument that is often made in relation to alcohol. The LCBO boasts it brings in billions of dollars each year in revenue but has never publicly considered the costs associated with the product they sell.
“There is not a single government in Canada that calculates on a regular basis the cost of alcohol to health and enforcement,” noted Dr. Thomas. “[As a government employee] you've got your eyes on a billion dollar income stream and nobody's reminding you what it costs on the backside."
Both communities are planning follow-up activities and action plans from the successful forums to continue prioritizing alcohol policy within their respective jurisdictions.
Summary of APN's annual alcohol forum
“Many countries recognize the serious public health problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol and have taken steps to prevent the health and social burdens and treat those in need of care. But clearly much more needs to be done to reduce the loss of life and suffering associated with harmful alcohol use.”
– Dr. Ala Alwan, World Health Organization, 2010
Armed with this knowledge, nearly 100 delegates attended the Alcohol Policy Network’s eighth annual forum on alcohol policy in March 2011. Guided by a keynote address by Senior Research and Policy Analyst Dr. Gerald Thomas of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the forum discussed local alcohol policy action and how communities can influence public policy at a regional level. Toronto Councilor Adam Vaughan, Simcoe-Muskoka Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner, and Director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco Michael Perley also gave presentations among a high caliber speaker roster.
“This is by far, the best policy forum I have been to!”
-Forum participant, March 2011
Through lecture, panel sessions, discussions groups and open dialogue among leading researchers, community leaders, direct service providers, policy analysts, government officials and public health professionals, ideas were generated and shared around what policy strategies are effective in reducing harm associated with alcohol.
Four key themes emerged:
The province of Ontario needs to establish a strategy specific to alcohol
Work can be done locally to build momemtum towards an alcohol strategy
Prevention of alcohol controls from further erosion needs to occur
- A formal alcohol-specific organizing body needs to be exist
The Alcohol Policy Network, the Alcohol Workgroup of the Ontario Public Health Association and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health are currently strategizing around the above outcomes to raise the issue of effective alcohol policy action among government and decision-makers.
For full details, please download the summary report found here and stay tuned to www.apolnet.ca for announcements coming soon regarding the ninth annual Alcohol: No ordinary commodity forum!
Webinar to explore alcohol policy at the local level
Please join us on Wednesday November 23, 2011 at 1:30PM for a free webinar on local alcohol policy. Susan Shepherd, Manager of the Toronto Drug Strategy Secretariat at Toronto Public Health and Janice Greco, Manager of the Injury and Substance Misuse Prevention Program at Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit will provide unique perspectives on alcohol policy from their respective communities.
Learn practical success stories related to introducing house policies at local establishments, working with multiple levels of government to effect change, advocating for action on alcohol policy, innovative awareness campaigns, and beginning steps in developing a regional alcohol and drug strategy.
For more information and to register for this free webinar, please click here